External high frequency oscillation was performed on 20 healthy volunteers using a cuirass-based system, the Hayek Oscillator. Five-min periods of oscillation were carried out on each subject at frequencies of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Hz. Effective ventilation was measured in terms of the fall in alveolar partial pressure of carbon dioxide immediately after oscillation. The optimum frequency for oscillation was 1-3 Hz but most of the subjects were adequately ventilated over a wide range of frequencies. Thus, the Hayek Oscillator is capable of adequately ventilating normal subjects by means of chest wall oscillation. We also compared external high frequency oscillation with intermittent positive pressure ventilation in five patients with respiratory failure. Using the same inspired oxygen fraction, the external high frequency oscillation replaced intermittent positive pressure ventilation for a 30-min period. External high frequency oscillation improved oxygenation by 16% and reduced the arterial carbon dioxide by 6%. These preliminary findings suggest that normal subjects and intensive care unit patients can be adequately ventilated by means of external high frequency oscillation.