Attacking Decompression Sickness

The Air Force has modified 27 U-2 aircraft—at a cost of $8.7 million—in an effort to eliminate decompression sickness during high-altitude flights. The program, dubbed Cabin Altitude Reduction Effort (CARE), “beefs up the U-2s structure, replaces the legacy cockpit pressure regulator and safety valve” and modifies “the engine bleed schedule,” according to a Nov. 15 release. Col. Fred Kennedy, command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance division chief, said the Air Force senior leaders made fixing the problem a top priority after noticing an increase in the number of DCS incidents due to long missions. “What our folks have done is to drop the apparent altitude in the cockpit from 29,500 feet to 15,000 feet, roughly the difference between Mount Everest and Pikes Peak,” said Kennedy. “CARE basically eliminates the risk of DCS and allows our U-2 pilots—who might otherwise have been removed from flying status—to keep flying.” As of Nov. 15, there have been no reported DCS incidents since the modifications were made, states the release. “This is a big deal for the U-2 community,” said Kennedy. “Healthy pilots mean more missions and more extraordinary ISR capability for our warfighters.”