Watch Video Below We grow up dreaming of flying. When you are on a commercial jet aircraft, like a passenger airliner, the cabin you sit in is pressurized and you are able to conduct your business without a mask for oxygen. If something happens when the aircraft is above 15,000 feet and the cabin depressurizes, leading to those little masks dropping out of the ceiling, what happens if you do not put the mask on? Also, why do fighter pilot wear masks over their face when they fly?
To answer the first question, what happens if you don’t put on the oxygen mask if there is sudden decompression in the cabin and you don’t put on the mask immediately, you would get loopy and pass out. Hopefully, you are not the pilot at that moment.
The pilot’s first response would be to put their masks on and then begin to descend to 10,000 feet if terrain allowed. The passengers and pilots would be safe without masks on until they could make an emergency landing.
The answer to why fighter pilots where their masks, besides the microphone inside for communications, is that the mask provides them with fresh oxygen mixture to avoid hypoxia symptoms. Hypoxia is the deficiency of oxygen reaching the tissues. One of the early symptoms is passing out in a few seconds – not what you want if you are the operator of the aircraft. Fighter cockpits are not pressurized, so if pilots were not wearing masks they would feel the effects eventually passing out in a short amount of time.
What does it look like to experience low oxygen, hypoxia symptoms? Watch this demonstration of hypoxia in a controlled chamber in Smarter Every Day’s video, “Why You Should Put Your Mask On First.” See all our Jet Friday posts.