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Six altitude chambers coming to Wright-Patt

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- Airman Larry Kohl (left), a U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Maintenance Technician student from Elizabeth City Coast Guard Station, try's to speak to fellow students while performing a mask test  during altitude chamber training on March 23. While in the altitude chamber students are exposed to atmospheric conditions at 25,000 feet. Without the aid of an oxygen mask they experience symptoms of hypoxia, an oxygen deficiency of the tissue and blood cells that causes impairment of function at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Samuel Rogers)

Students perform a mask test during altitude chamber training in 2008. The students are trained to recognize symptoms of hypoxia, an oxygen deficiency of the tissue and blood cells that causes impairment of function at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing here will receive four hypobaric research chambers for aircrew research and equipment qualification testing.

The Department of Defense announced June 14 the award of a $ 38.3 million contract to Environmental Tectonics Corp., Southampton, Pa. for research chamber design, development, manufacturing, testing, installation, integration, and initial provision of spare parts and associated support equipment.

The four fully-instrumented altitude chambers will be supplemented by two hypobaric training chambers that will support aircrew and student training on the operational effects of high-altitude flight.  One was relocated from Hill Air Force Base, Utah and the other from Holloman AFB, N.M.  Both are already on site at Wright-Patterson. Installation and certification for the two training chambers is expected to begin later this fall.  They are expected to be cleared for operation in 2012.

The altitude chambers will support BRAC-directed consolidation of human performance and aerospace medicine research missions to Wright-Patterson from Mesa, Ariz., Brooks City Base, Texas and Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

"This is one of the final major contract awards for world-class equipment in support of the move of the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine to Wright-Patt under the 711th Human Performance Wing," said Frank Albanese, AFRL's director of Base Realignment and Closure.

The contract award to Environmental Tectonics for the four research chambers follows a $ 34.4 million award to the company in September 2009 for the installation of a single high-G centrifuge to be used for operational training, research, and equipment qualification testing.  Mr. Albanese said installation of the centrifuge inside the nearly 700,000 square foot Human Performance Wing complex has already started with the laying of supporting utilities and pouring of its massive foundation, some 30 feet in depth.

The centrifuge construction and certification is expected to be completed in 2012 and the research altitude chambers are scheduled to begin operating in 2013. Until each is certified for use, those respective missions will continue to be performed by contractors at existing facilities at the Brooks City Base in San Antonio.

The systems support training of aircrews, as well as research conducted by flight surgeons, aerospace physiologists and others.  Officials said the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace medicine will bring more than 6,000 students annually to Wright-Patterson to attend courses and training ranging from a few days to several months.  The first bioenvironmental engineering classes are slated to begin in December 2010.