TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Powerful thrust, paired
with unparalleled agility, propels the grey fighter jet through the
sky, in ways unfathomable to earlier generations of pilots.
January 30, 2013 - Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jay Flottmann, a former
flight surgeon and now fully qualified F-22 Raptor pilot and 325th
Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, shown here in an F-15 Eagle, is
the first pilot-physician to drive the F-22. (Courtesy photo)
The complex system of technology that makes up the F-22
Raptor exposes the human body to altitudes and G-forces
rarely experienced by other fighter pilots.
medical community's first-hand knowledge of these unique
conditions, however, is limited by the fact that flight
surgeons can't accompany a pilot in the single-seat F-22.
While a doctor can't ride tandem in the Raptor, the Air
Force can put qualified physicians in the driver's seat
under the Pilot-Physician Program.
Lt. Col. (Dr.)
Jay Flottmann, a former flight surgeon and now fully
qualified F-22 pilot and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight
safety, took on the challenge and is helping the fighter
community ensure the safety of the F-22s.
is one of 11 pilot-physicians in the Air Force, making him a
member of an exclusive band of knowledgeable experts who are
becoming more valuable as new technology offers new tasks
for the human body.
While some have come before him
in various other aircraft, Flottmann is the first
pilot-physician to tackle the Raptor. However, his journey
began with a calling for medicine.
"Once I graduated
medical school I was commissioned as a captain in the
medical corps and was assigned to Keesler Air Force Base,
Miss., to begin post-graduate training," Flottmann said.
"While at Keesler (AFB), I decided that I wanted to be a
flight surgeon, not knowing what that was."
doctor went to Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, to attend the
Aerospace Medicine Primary Course. There, he and some
classmates received an orientation flight in a T-37 Tweet, a
small economical twin-engine jet trainer.
that time, I couldn't tell you what a T-37 was from a T-38
(Talon), and I couldn't really tell you what any airplane in
the Air Force inventory looked or sounded like," Flottmann
After that ride, he was hooked.
doctor is in: A long way to the cockpit
"I could not
believe that people get paid to fly airplanes," he said. "It
was the most fun thing I had done, and I was amazed at how
awesome the experience was."
Flottman began asking
whether there was a program that would allow him to be a
pilot and a doctor. While pilots have been known to attend
medical school, there didn't seem to be an established way
for an Air Force doctor to attend pilot training.
Meanwhile, Flottmann was selected to be the flight surgeon
for the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration
Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev. Near the end of the tour with
the Thunderbirds, Flottmann learned about a flight surgeon
in Alaska who successfully entered the pilot program.
"So here's a guy who cracked the nut," Flottmann said.
"Now that it had been done, I told my commander at that time
I wanted to do the exact same thing, and he helped me put
together an application for pilot training."
Flottmann was accepted into the program himself and went to
Moody AFB, Ga., to begin pilot training in the T-6 Texan. At
the end of his training, he was the only student in his
graduating class to be awarded a slot for the F-15C Eagle,
his first choice. Despite this success, Flottmann began
putting together an application to be considered for the
official pilot-physician specialty code.
was at Laughlin AFB, Texas, I finished the application
process and started working an exception to policy to go
back to the medical corps in the Air Force specialty code
pilot-physician career rating, because the medical corps
owns that duty code and it required a competitive category
transfer," he said. "My AFSC was changed and that's about
the same time that the F-22 began to experience a rash of
New solutions for new problems
- fixing the F-22
In 2009, wing leaders realized they
needed somebody with medical and operational flying
knowledge to assist with the problems of the new jet. The
program director of the Pilot-Physician Program recommended
Flottmann for the job.
"Many people didn't know about
this program or this job, and many still don't know about
it," Flottmann said. "When I first arrived at Tyndall (AFB),
Fla., as part of the F-22 program, most weren't even sure
what to do with someone like me. So, I deployed for six
months. When I came back in November 2010, that's when I
began to train in the F-22."
In May 2011, a
stand-down grounded the F-22 because of its technical
difficulties. With the jets off the flightline, the
pilot-physician became more busy than ever before.
became heavily involved in the safety investigations,"
Flottmann said. "I was brought on board as a pilot and
medical member and we started a comprehensive and thorough,
His team conducted
exhaustive interviews and performed extensive research --
looking to understand what, at the time, were unexplained
As a result, Flottmann's
team advised senior Air Force leaders on how to study the
incidents and mitigate risks. They also helped keep current
information on the investigation flowing to the F-22
community, U.S. Navy and NASA researchers who partnered with
the Air Force and interested members of Congress and the
"We introduced the idea of flying with a
pulseoximeter and incorporating it into the helmet --
something unique to the F-22," Flottmann said. "No other
aircraft has that feature. We developed an incident response
protocol and identified a problem with the upper pressure
garment, which was functioning differently in an F-22."
Trained as a pilot and as a qualified medical
professional, Flottmann was able to evaluate the
occupational medical environment, studying the human factors
involved with piloting the multi-million dollar airframe.
"We found verifiable and tangible issues and we
addressed them," Flottmann said. "Some things I even
experienced myself while flying the F-22, and I did the
research to discover what was going on physiologically."
Looking into the future
The fighter community
continues to become more technologically advanced and more
capable. The need for speed and height, meanwhile, has
pushed the envelope of technology and pilots' physical
"Man has introduced some (new)
variables on human physiology, and we are more thoroughly
examining the effects of those variables and seeking to
alleviate them while maintaining the high-performance of the
fighter itself," Flottmann said.
in the pilot's seat and his success is now reflected in the
restructured Air Force Insruction 11-405, which now allows
qualified flight surgeons to apply to pilot training. Capt.
William Smith, from the 325th Medical Group, was recently
selected as the first flight surgeon to attend pilot
training through this official channel, following
"Right here at Tyndall (AFB)
we are engaged and active in growing the program, so getting
people like Captain Smith in the program is important for
its viability," Flottmann said. "We are thrilled for him and
who knows if he will come back to fly the F-22 like I do --
the sky's the limit."
By USAF Staff Sgt. Kirsten Wicker
325th Fighter Wing Public
Air Force News Service
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