The chair that stops you from vomiting in flight
The Barany, a chair that spins you carefully (at first) to get you used to motion, is designed to help pilots avoid throwing up on the job.
I was just at the wedding of one of New York's finest unsung comedians.
Her father is a recently retired US Airways pilot. He explained to me that he was instructed never to use words like "turbulence" or "thunderstorm," as these tend to frighten people to the degree that they might reach for the air sickness bags.
Perhaps you are one of those who is prone to having your food make an unexpected return to your throat when the plane begins to bump, grind, and sway out of control. Well, perhaps the Barany chair might be for you.
I am indebted to my regular reading of the U.S. Air Force Web site, which revealed to me yesterday that this fine invention is used to help pilots and crew keep their food down, as they are heading up.
Air sickness seems to have a few causes: sensory conflict between the eyes and the inner ear, for example. Or just pure, straight-up, throw-up anxiety.
When issues or foodstuffs arise, the Air Force sits down its pilots and air crew and tries to discover what the root causes of their air sickness might be. Then it straps them in the Barany chair and whirs them around until their bacon and eggs have wrapped themselves around their cheeks.
Of course, I am exaggerating slightly. (It's the only way to get people to listen these days. Ask any politician.)
In fact, the Barany, which looks like a large metal hula hoop with a seat in the middle, spins them around very gently at first, so that ear-fluid movement is stimulated without body fluid movement being ejected.
The victims are subjected to three spins of the Barany, each lasting around 10 minutes. While they are spinning, they have to perform tasks or exercises, so that they're not just sitting there wondering why the world is going around faster than normal.
As you might imagine, this being a military operation, the spinning becomes more vigorous as the training continues. And you might wonder whether my exaggeration above wasn't exaggeration at all when you hear the words of 2nd Lt. Shannon Scannon, a 359th AMDS aerospace and operational physiologist.
While explaining that the Barany isn't meant to induce messy bodily functions, she said: "I never had anyone actively get sick on the third day."
Which, to my deep and deductive reasoning, suggests that these poor souls do get sick on the first two days. They get "actively" sick, which might suggest certain scenes from "The Exorcist," any Judd Apatow movie, or any evening after 9 on the streets of London.
However, Lt. Scannon clearly has faith both in the chair and in the relaxation techniques she teaches.
"If they make it through the chair, they should be able to fly," she said.
Which might make you wonder: what if they don't?