Up in the air

Double threat: U.S. Navy flight surgeon trained as fighter pilot

Capt. Kris Belland, DO, MPH, recently became the first osteopathic physician to lead the Aerospace Medical Association.


Completing the Navy’s aeromedical dual designator program landed Capt. Kris Belland, DO, MPH, in elite company. The program, which turns out Navy flight surgeons who are also trained pilots, is very selective; only 79 people have earned the dual designation since the program’s inception during World War I. “Completing the dual training gives you instant credibility when you speak to aviators about human performance and mishap avoidance,” explains Dr. Belland, an aerospace medicine specialist, who completed the program in 1997.

Currently the executive officer for the Navy Medicine Operational Training Center in Pensacola, Florida, Dr. Belland was recently elected president of the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA). He’s the first osteopathic physician to lead the association. In this edited interview, Dr. Belland discusses his career and how the osteopathic philosophy aligns with aerospace medicine.

How did you become a Navy pilot and a flight surgeon?

I served two consecutive tours as a flight surgeon and was accepted to the Navy’s aeromedical dual designator program the third time I applied. The program exists because the Navy values flight surgeons who also personally understand what naval aviators experience. My knowledge of both aviation and medicine allows me to positively influence the Navy’s culture of safety. I continued to fly after completing the dual designator program, including at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center in Fallon, Nevada, where I worked on human performance and reducing mishaps caused by human error.

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As a flight surgeon, what health conditions were you treating?

We monitored all the aviators for all types of disease processes, including colds, flu, stress and fatigue. The extreme temperatures were also challenging. For example, when I was serving on the U.S.S. Independence in the Persian Gulf, the flight deck could get up to 150 degrees. One aircraft, the EA-6B Prowler, had to have the cockpit canopy closed and the air conditioning off while you were waiting to launch, so it was like a really intense sauna. When you took off, the temperature dropped to as low as 40 degrees almost instantaneously. It’s very important to stay well nourished, physically fit and hydrated when you’re flying in conditions like that.

Has your osteopathic training been an asset in aerospace medicine?

Absolutely. I love the osteopathic philosophy of looking at the patient as a whole. In our case, you might see an aviator who has to fly even though he or she is having family problems—you really have to look at that individual holistically.

Osteopathic manipulation is also a great tool. Naval aviators are exposed to high gravitational forces, neck stresses from wearing heavy helmets and night vision goggles, and low back pain from sitting in an uncomfortable seat for 10 to 12 hours at a time. When the aviators found out I did osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), I was inundated with requests for treatment. OMT improves aviators’ somatic dysfunction and allows them to perform better in extremely demanding environments.


  1. David P. Kosnosky, D.O.

    As a grad of NAMI, class 76-3, I am aware of the high standards set for the dual designator program. Congratulations on a job well done. What a great feather in the cap of our profession. Keep up the good work Dr. Belland.

  2. Steve Todd

    I also had a very close friend that was a dual designator, his pipeline was Naval Academy Grad ’65, NA training (jet pipeline) and flew A-7s, then went to med school and became a Dual Designator, flew with VX-4 at Pt. Mugu in 70’s and then transferred to Air Force, retired from AF as a LCol was last Chief of flight Medicine at Mather AFB.

    His name was Harry P. Hoffman, I also met another that was a CH-53 Pilot (USMC) and then became Navy MC and dual designator. Also knew Dr. Kneudson at NAS Lemoore who was a Dual as well.

  3. Wendy

    Hi Mr. Todd-
    My name is Wendy. I am looking for a Steve Tood that was a friend of Jim Haas and visited Missouri after bootcamp and before basic training (approx May 1966). Could this possibly be you?

    Please let me know. Thanks


  4. Stephen Todd

    Dr. Belland;

    I read that you were at Strike U at Fallon, I was the Senior SAR Corpsman at NAS Fallon 1986-1987. I was also a former SERE instructor and was an Instructor at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport CA. When you were at Fallon, did you work at the clinic?

    I also participated in a couple of accident investigations that occurred at Dixie Valley.

    Best Regards…

    Steve Todd

  5. padenkler

    I knew Robert E Hughes, “Hawkeye”, VA-174, 1977-1978 when John McCain was the CO. He was one of 7 dual-designators at the time. First a Doctor, then pilot.

  6. William Holloway

    Kris and I served together on the Indy. He is a great Naval Officer, Doctor and he was a good Rugby Player. Press on. I’m living in NC and currently hiding from Coronavirus.
    Gunner Bill Holloway

  7. Sandy Salzman

    Thank you for all you have done! I’m looking for contact information for Dr Belland to pass along to Lt Tyler Wagner, DO, USN who’d like to become a AMDD.

    Sandy Salzman, MD, USAF
    Pilot Physician C-130J

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