131st Fighter Squadron raises capabilities, safety with SPYDR

  • Published
  • By Randall Burlingame,
  • 104th Fighter Wing/Public Affairs

WESTFIELD, Mass. – The 131st Fighter Squadron became the first F-15C Eagle unit to employ SPYDR by Spotlight Labs at Barnes Air National Guard Base in September.

SPYDR is a system for pilots and aircrew that uses sensor technology to detect and monitor physiological changes, such as hypoxia. If there is an emergency, the helmet insert will warn the pilots in real-time, improving the pilot’s safety while flying.

“The SPYDR system provides a safety system that is extremely important to operations in an F-15C,” said Lt. Col. Michael ‘Shot’ Glass, 131st Fighter Squadron commander, Massachusetts Air National Guard. “Due to our operational and tactical need to fly at high altitudes, F-15C pilots run a higher risk of falling victim to cabin decompression.”

According to the Spotlight Labs website, the only indication of hypoxic incapacitation has been training pilots to recognize their symptoms.

Glass said this can be difficult when a pilot is in combat.

“The most dangerous type of decompression is slow and/or insidious, which is difficult to detect by the pilot, especially if he or she is engaged in tactical maneuvering or combat,” said Glass. “SPYDR provides us an audible warning of when our oxygen saturation drops below a specific threshold and alerts the pilot that he or she may pass out soon unless a lower altitude is achieved immediately.”

Dustin Yee, Defense Innovation Unit project manager, is one of the people who helped connect the Department of Defense with Spotlight Labs, ultimately leading to pilots at the 104FW using this lifesaving technology.

“DIU finds commercial solutions for Department of Defense problems,” said Yee. “This project was born from the need to prevent unexplained physiological episodes. DIU was able to connect with the commercial world to find vendors who could provide solutions at a rapid speed. In this case, we went from problem curation to a recommendation, to the field in under three years.”

Yee said the project expands beyond the 104FW and the Air National Guard. He said the project has been a joint effort to include the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Naval Air Systems Command, and Naval Advanced Medical Development. The system has been used by pilots in multiple airframes.

“It feels extremely rewarding,” said Yee. “Even more so that we were able to have these devices in the hands of those who have been directly affected by unexplained physiological episodes in just a few years.”   

For Glass, having the technology in hand is something he said will help ensure success in the sky for pilots.

“SPYDR gives us the confidence to execute the high-altitude tactics we need to be effective at air superiority,” said Glass. “Knowing there is a system monitoring to help keep us safe gives us a tactical advantage.”