Use of fatigue-fighting drugs by pilots goes back to WWII
Air Force pilots have been taking amphetamines or other fatigue-fighting drugs for decades. Their use is reported by both German and American forces as far as World War II.
So, pilots may have been taking go pills for longer than there’s been an Air Force.
But the regulated use of dextroamphetamine has varied through the years.
Currently, Air Force policy dictates that only bomber and fighter pilots can take them. Pilots of refueling and cargo planes can’t — even though their missions often take much longer than fighters, for instance.
The use across the board was restricted in much of the 1990s, following some concerns of too much use by pilots in the Gulf War. An Air Force directive on June 27, 1996, limited the use of go pills to long deployment or redeployment missions.
The policy changed on Feb. 20, 2001.
“The use of go pills in support of peace time and operational missions is approved,” according to a memo announcing the change in policy. “Go pill use should normally be limited to sorties over eight hours in a single-pilot fighter or 12 hours in a dual-pilot bomber. However, there are circumstances when go pill use may be beneficial for missions of shorter duration.”
The Air Force has only approved dextroamphetamine for use as a go pill since that time. Subsequently, the command determined that only a 10 milligram dose was useful. Previously, many had taken 5 milligram doses.
And a memo on July 26, 2001, from Col. Arleen M. Saenger, chief of the aerospace medical division at Air Force headquarters, specified that two 5-milligram Dexedrine tablets should be taken, instead of sustained release Spansule capsules.
In the civilian world, such drugs are sometimes used for people suffering from narcolepsy and children with Attention Deficit Disorder.
The Air Force also authorizes the use of “no go pills,” designed to help pilots get sleep before missions. Lt. Col. Diane Ritter, the aerospace medical director for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, said the command takes a similar approach in distributing them as it does with go pills.