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1943 pilot cadets train in decompression chamber

1943 pilot cadets train in decompression chamber

Oct. 1, 1943: World War II pilot cadets experience a simulation of high altitude in a decompression chamber at Santa Ana Army Air Base. This experience makes future flyers aware of the perils of oxygen deprivation at great heights.

This photo by Al Humphreys accompanied a story by Marvin Miles in the Oct. 10, 1943, Los Angeles Times. Miles reported on the training of cadets and flight surgeons:

At the sprawling Santa Ana Army Air Base scores of these young doctors are working for the prized gold wings and emblazoned caduceus under direction of Col. Steven Guzack, commandant of the medical detachment, and his executive officer, Maj. R.E. Weismann.

It’s their duty to examine cadet candidates, accept only those suited for air duty, select among them pilots, bombardiers and navigators, ascertain their night-vision capabilities, instruct them in the use of oxygen and keep them well and fit, mentally and physically. …

Oxygen, of course, is an all-important part of the training conducted by the doctor candidates whose classrooms for this course are a series of huge decompression chambers at the base.

Each boy is taken “aloft,” shown how to adjust his mask and given a taste of the rarefied atmosphere he can expect in current operating altitudes up to 40,000 feet.

But it’s not the young flyers that the flight surgeons have trouble with, according to Maj. Weismann.

“They’re brought up on oxygen,” he explained. “But some of the older pilots still think it’s sissy stuff-until they get into trouble.”

Opened on Jan. 1, 1942, the Santa Ana Army Air Base provided basic pilot training. The base was decommissioned in 1946.  Today the site is split between the Orange County Fairgrounds and John Wayne Airport.

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