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 an incident occurs when the aircraft is above 15,000 feet and the cabin depressurizes, leading to those little masks dropping out of the ceiling, what will happen if you do not put the mask on? Also, why do fighter pilots wear masks over their faces when they fly?
To answer the first question, what happens if you don’t put on the oxygen mask immediately if there is sudden decompression in the cabin? 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 mask on and then begin to descend to 10,000 feet if the terrain allowed. The passengers and pilots would then be safe without masks on until they could make an emergency landing.
The answer to why fighter pilots wear their masks, besides the microphone contained inside used for communications, is that the mask provides them with a 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 depending on their current altitude.
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 of our Jet Friday posts.