Pubdate: Mon, 13 Jan 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State


Sumter Fighter pilots at Shaw Air Force Base can take "go pills," designed 
to keep them awake during long missions, but the drug is tightly controlled 
and is regarded as something to use as a "last resort," officials said.

"All of our pilots have the opportunity to use the pills, but are not 
required to," said Lt. Col. C.Q. Brown, commander of the 78th Fighter 
Squadron. "They're insurance to help with fatigue management."

The Air Force's use of the stimulants could become the centerpiece of the 
defense for two Illinois Air National Guard fighter pilots charged in the 
April bombing deaths of four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. The pilots, 
who mistook the troops for Taliban fighters, contend their judgment was 
impaired by heavy use of "go pills."

Go pills are more commonly used by fighter pilots than by Air Force pilots 
who fly transport planes, a spokeswoman said.

"They're actually offered, but we haven't heard of any pilots who have used 
them," said Capt. Krista Carlos, of the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston 
Air Force Base.

The 437th flies giant C-17 transport planes. Sometimes, the planes are sent 
on missions 20- to 24-hours long, she said. To compensate for fatigue, 
additional pilots and crew members are assigned, she said.

"In order to fly those long missions, crews trade out at the controls," 
Carlos said. "When they're not flying, they sleep in the bunks and get 
their rest."

But only one pilot can squeeze into the cockpit of an F-16 fighter, so 
fatigue is an issue, said Shaw's Brown, 41, a native of San Antonio.

There's no room in an F-16 to get up and take a walk or stretch. "You can't 
pull over at a rest stop," Brown said.

To combat fatigue, Brown focuses on getting enough rest, eating right and 
exercising. When flying, Brown will perform some isometric exercises like 
pushing his feet against the pedals. Or he'll wiggle his toes and fingers 
to loosen up.

Go pills are used to help pilots deal with sudden jolts to their body 
clocks when deployed overseas or if they take off on a mission in the 
middle of the night, Brown said. Pilots at Shaw don't take go pills during 
training missions, he said.

"They're kind of like a cup of coffee just to keep you alert," said Brown, 
who has taken only one go pill in his 17-year career. "It's kind of a last 
resort. We try to do other things before we resort to the pill."

Go pills won't be the only drugs used by pilots likely to be raised as an 
issue in the trial of the Illinois pilots. Some U.S. pilots also use "no 
go" pills, or sedatives, to help them sleep through the day before night 

Brown, who's flown both Northern Watch and Southern Watch patrol missions 
over Iraq, said he has used no go pills more often to even out his sleep 
cycles when he's deployed overseas.

"You're taking the pill only in a situation where your body clock is all 
screwed up anyway, so it would be an improvement," said Lt. Col. Carey 
Cappel, senior flight surgeon of the 20th Air Wing based at Shaw.

Cappel, 53, said use of both pills is tightly controlled and must be 
prescribed by an Air Force physician.

Before they use go pills on a mission, pilots first must be "ground-tested" 
to see whether they suffer from any side effects, Cappel said. Also, only 
the wing commander can give final approval of the pill's use, he added.

Four to six pills are prescribed for each mission, and pilots must turn in 
any unused pills, said Cappel, a Greenville native. Any use of the pill 
must be reported to the wing commander.

He said the main ingredient of the go pill -- dextroamphetamine -- is an 
alternative in Ritalin, a drug used to treat attention deficit 
hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The dosage of a go pill is five to 10 
milligrams, usually less than would be used to treat a child with ADHD, he 

Still, extensive use of either the go pill or no go pill can be addictive. 
Cappel said Air Force physicians "don't prescribe the pill to be taken over 
a long period of time. '.'.'. If a pilot is taking a pill somewhat 
regularly, then the flight surgeon would have to talk to them to find out why."

Both Brown and Cappel said the pills enhance a pilot's performance and 
wouldn't hinder judgment.

"I think if you didn't take it, you'd probably miss radio calls and 
misperceive things," Brown said. "It makes you more aware of what's going 
on around your surroundings."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart