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Optimizing the human warfighting system

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Heather Leveille
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

Imagine trying to maneuver a fighter jet like the F-35A Lightning II through the Alaskan skies while the weight of a full grown grizzly bear presses down on your chest. 

Crazy as it sounds, it is an accurate representation of the forces Air Force fighter pilots deal with on a daily basis. 

The average weight of the human head is 11 pounds. On a typical flight, fighter pilots will experience up to nine Gs. This means that under that intense force the head can weigh 99 pounds. That amount of force can lead to significant trauma to the neck and back. 

Sadly, many fighter pilots’ careers have been cut short due to chronic neck and back pain. Luckily for the pilots assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron, the Human Performance Initiative has provided an entire program dedicated to the enhancement of their overall physical wellbeing at home and on the go.

The 33rd Operations Support Squadron provides 58th FS pilots access to a physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach, chiropractor and two licensed massage therapists as part of their Human Performance Initiative at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

“HPI focuses on breaking into human performance optimization for people that are operating at a really high level to help mitigate injury risk and boost overall performance,” said Capt. Clint Copeland, 33rd OSS human performance team lead and physical therapist. 

Copeland, who typically provides pilots support at home station, traveled with 58th FS pilots to provide support and care as needed during a training mission at Eielson AFB. As a physical therapist, he has the ability to offer preventative care as well as rehabilitation.

“The benefit of being here is two-fold,” said Copeland. “One, is immediate access to care for anyone that has had something come up, such as strained, fatigued, overworked muscles or decreased mobility that if left unchecked for a couple weeks, could evolve into a bigger issue down the line. Two it has given me the chance to get to know more people in the squadron, which isn’t always possible given the limitations of daily ops.”

While at Eielson AFB, Copeland was able to inform more pilots about the program at home station and the benefits of using it more often to optimize their physical performance.

“I have had the chance to chat with more people throughout the day and have worked on pilots I haven’t had the chance to work with before being here,” said Copeland. “I plan to increase my presence in the squadron moving forward to maintain relationships with the pilots and continue to educate them on the benefits of the HPI program.”  

Copeland began his Air Force career by enlisting as an aerospace physiology technician. Aerospace physiology technicians train aircrew members to handle extreme G-forces, bailing out at high altitudes and explore the fatigue, stress and other boundaries that a human body can endure as a direct result of flying. 

During his time as an aerospace physiology technician, he completed an undergraduate degree in exercise science before separating from the military to complete his doctorate in physical therapy and later commissioning as a physical therapist.