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Naval Flight Surgeons to participate in Flyover of 90th Orange Bowl

by Jennifer Cragg
29 December 2023 (Dec. 28, 2023) – When you think of Navy flyovers rarely do you think of Navy flight surgeons flying in the backseat, but it is more common than you think. To demonstrate that commonality, two Navy flight surgeons will fly in two of the four T-45 Goshawk aircraft scheduled to fly over the 90th Orange Bowl featuring the Florida State Seminoles and the Georgia Bulldogs, Dec. 30.
Pilots that will fly backseat during a flyover for the Orange Bowl
SLIDESHOW | 1 images | Orange Bowl Flyover MIAMI, Fl. (Dec. 26, 2023)- Lt. Nicholas Ryan, from Daytona Beach, Florida, left, stands next to Lt. Michael Rizzo, from Pensacola, Florida. Both serve as flight surgeons assigned to Training Air Wing Two aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville, Texas. The Navy flight surgeons will fly in the backseat of two of the four T-45 Goshawk aircraft scheduled to fly over the 90th Orange Bowl featuring the Florida State Seminoles and the Georgia Bulldogs, Dec. 30. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
“The inclusion of flight surgeons participating in flyovers is indicative of the special relationship we have with our aviators,” said Lt. Michael Rizzo, from Pensacola, Florida, who serves as a flight surgeon, assigned to Training Air Wing Two aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville, Texas.  “Wherever the aviators go, we go with them. When we are included in a flyover, it is an indicator of a pretty unique and special relationship with special mutual trust forged between aviators and their flight surgeons.”
Rizzo added that the unique bond between naval aviators and naval aerospace medicine is rarely found in the civilian side of medicine. Developing that bond with their naval aviators is important because it is part of the natural interface between the practice of medicine, the science of safety and the profession of aviation.
“For me, the thing that is truly special about Navy flight medicine is how close we are with the naval aviators we support,” Rizzo said. “They are our patient population and there is no other realm of medicine where you develop such a close personal relationship with your patients, you take care of them and they take care of you.”
Accompanying Rizzo in another T-45 aircraft, is fellow flight surgeon, Lt. Nicholas Ryan, from Daytona Beach, Florida. Both flight surgeons shared another commonality, they attended Florida State University. Rizzo graduated from Florida State and earned his undergraduate degree in 2013. Ryan completed his undergraduate degree the following year, in 2014. Rizzo remained at Florida State University to earn his medical degree, whereas Ryan attended Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine at Auburn University.
To date, Rizzo has amassed 200 hours of flying, and Ryan has amassed 100 hours. However, participating in a flyover during the Orange Bowl will be a first for both Rizzo and Ryan. To help communicate the uniqueness of their role they have invited medical students interested in careers as a flight surgeon to a static display on Dec. 29 at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport to give exposure to naval aerospace medicine.
“There may be medical students who may be interested in naval flight medicine, but may not know what it is and how cool it is,” Ryan said. “We wanted to help out a little bit and give an experience to medical students that we did not get. We both joined the Navy right before medical school and the Navy paid for our school. We knew we would be Navy doctors when we were finished with our schooling, but at the time there were not a ton of opportunities to get our eyes on what the duties of being a flight surgeon looked like.”
Currently, there are over 260 Aerospace Medicine and flight surgeon billets in Spain, Italy, Japan, Bahrain, Okinawa, and all over the United States. The Navy's flight surgeon course is 26 weeks long with classes convening three times a year at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Pensacola, Florida.
“It is a great deal that not a lot of people know about,” Ryan said, who added during the flight surgeon training course they fly the T-6 Texan II turboprop aircraft and the TH-73A Thrasher helicopter. “We train on both types of aircraft before we are selected to go out to our fleet squadrons. The flight training, we receive with the student pilots in Pensacola is crucial and helps us understand the basics of aerodynamics, engines, aviation weather and pipeline selection.”
Capt. Robert Krause, the Force Surgeon assigned to Naval Air Force Atlantic, knows exactly why Ryan and Rizzo are excited about their jobs since he was previously a naval aviator and then became a flight surgeon at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, or more commonly known as TOPGUN, in Fallon, Nevada, after attending the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.  In his current position, he has the oversight of all the flight surgeons on the east coast as well as the medical departments of seven aircraft carriers. 
“My current job is extremely rewarding and I work with great people but I would love to be back in the Lieutenants flight boots,” Krause said. “Opportunities are increasing in aerospace medicine and there are bigger jobs to complete but I would love to be flying in a flyover one more time, because that is a memory you will never forget.”
In their role as flight surgeons they are required to spend at least 50 percent of their time in the squadron spaces interacting with the squadron aviation personnel and conducting a vital safety role as part of the Naval Aviation Safety Program. The remaining 50 percent is dedicated to the clinical care of aviators as well as the maintenance personnel responsible for keeping the aircraft flying.
“We gain credibility with the aviators when we strap on the jet and show that we share their passion for flying,” Rizzo said, who added the reason why they are expected to fly with their squadrons is so that “we understand, on a first-hand and personal level, the physiologic stressors of the in-flight environment.”
The intent of that time spent with aircrew is to allow the flight surgeons to become familiar with each member of their squadrons so that they can better notice a change in behavior and understand when and why you need to ground an aviator as well as return them to flight.
“That requirement of bi-directional trust is the biggest reason why we get so close to our aviators,” Rizzo said. “They need to trust us but we also need to trust them.”
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