On January 23 of final yr, a pilot flying a single-seat F-16 over Nevada misplaced consciousness. Round 6 months later, on July 16, one other pilot working the identical kind of fighter jet, additionally in Nevada, handed out as properly. Each of them would have virtually actually been killed had been it not for built-in software program that took over the controls earlier than they crashed.
Each pilots skilled an aviation phenomenon referred to as G-LOC, which stands for G-induced lack of consciousness, and each had been working within the Nevada Check and Coaching Vary. And in every case, the onboard software program system saved the aviators’ lives, in keeping with the Air Pressure.
The software program that saved them is named Automated Floor Collision Avoidance System, or AGCAS, and within the January occasion, it engaged when the jet was about 2,600 toes above floor stage. Within the July incident, the software program activated at about 4,000 above the deck.
The Air Pressure Security Heart defined by way of electronic mail to Well-liked Science that in each instances, “AGCAS is credited with saving the pilots’ lives.”
The Security Heart added: “In each incidents, the pilots had been in a position to regain consciousness through the AGCAS pull-up and so they assisted within the restoration of the plane; nevertheless, their actions alone wouldn’t have been in time to forestall collision with the bottom.”
Referring to the altitudes above the bottom at which the AGCAS engaged, the Security Heart stated: “Based mostly on the airspeed and flight paths of the plane, these had been the altitudes the place the system calculated that fast flight management enter was wanted to keep away from an impending crash.”
Lockheed Martin, which manufactures F-16 and F-35 fighter jets, created the AGCAS software program. In easy phrases, the code realizes when the jet goes to fly into the bottom and makes an attempt to repair the issue. The protection behemoth, which additionally personal Sikorsky helicopters, describes the way it works this manner on the AGCAS web site: “the system consists of a set of complicated collision avoidance and autonomous determination making algorithms that make the most of exact navigation, plane efficiency and on-board digital terrain knowledge to find out if a floor collision is imminent. If the system predicts an imminent collision, an autonomous avoidance maneuver—a roll to wings-level and +5g pull—is commanded on the final occasion to forestall floor affect.”
Within the January 2020 occasion, the pilot was at an altitude of 15,800 toes once they succumbed to G-LOC. Within the July occasion, they had been at 17,000 toes.
A Trusted Autonomous System
The Automated Floor Collision Avoidance System has now saved 10 pilots and 9 F-16s. Find out how this life-saving know-how helps guarantee pilots come dwelling safely after each flight.
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) Might 14, 2020
A fighter pilot experiences G-LOC in the event that they go out throughout a maneuver, however safely managing the Gs on a high-performance jet is an on a regular basis process for any pilot on the controls. As a pilot turns the airplane sharply, for instance, the G-forces they really feel improve quickly, inflicting their blood to need to transfer away from their mind. Two instruments exist to assist a pilot stop themselves from passing out: one is a muscle and respiratory train referred to as the anti-G straining maneuver, and the opposite is a G-suit the aviator wears. That swimsuit dynamically responds to what the jet is doing, and squeezes the pilot’s decrease physique, like a high-tech blood-pressure cuff. The 2 instruments collectively ought to hold the blood from pooling within the decrease portion of the pilot’s physique. If a pilot doesn’t deal with the Gs appropriately, they may go out.
[Related: I flew in an F-16 with the Air Force and oh boy did it go poorly]
To make sure, not all G-LOCs end in an imminent crash and the activation of the emergency software program. The Air Pressure Security Heart reported to Well-liked Science that within the fiscal yr 2020, there have been eight G-LOC occasions, together with the 2 during which the emergency software program activated. The eight occurred in Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, or Florida, and concerned F-16Cs, T-6A trainers, a T-38C coach, an F-15C, and an F-22A. In all eight situations, no pilot was harm and no plane was broken. That variety of incidents is a lower from fiscal yr 2019, during which there have been 12 G-LOC occasions that the Security Heart reported to Well-liked Science.
In March of 2019, an aviator over Oregon skilled a G-LOC occasion that was severe sufficient to end in main injury to the plane, even when it didn’t crash. That pilot was not harm.
And in 2018, tragically, a member of the Thunderbirds demonstration staff died throughout coaching because of G-LOC.
To date, on this fiscal yr, there have been two G-LOC occasions that the Security Heart reported to Well-liked Science.
[Related: A pilot passed out while flying an F-15 over Oregon. Here’s what happened next.]
All advised, the AGCAS software program is now credited with saving 11 pilots and 10 F-16 plane, in keeping with a Lockheed Martin spokesperson.
The software program is on F-35s and F-16s, however not all of them. Of the F-35s that the Air Pressure and Air Nationwide Guard have, the Security Heart stated that 98 p.c have the software program put in. As for the F-16s, the AGCAS is on these jets from “Block 40” and newer—the “block” is like its lot quantity. A Security Heart spokesperson stated by way of electronic mail that the software program “is projected to start fielding on over 300 F-16 Pre-Block 40 (Block 30s) plane with analog flight controls in early 2022.”
The occasions in January and July of 2020 during which the AGCAS system activated had been beforehand reported by Navy.com, though on the time it wasn’t but clear if the software program might be credited with saving the lifetime of the pilot within the July incident.