This newly declassified video footage from the head-up-display of a U.S. Air Force Arizona Air National Guard F-16 records the dramatic moment when its unconscious pilot is saved from certain death by the aircraft’s Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS).
“Two Recover! Two Recover!”
That’s lead telling his wingman to pull up. It’s a scary situation and something you don’t ever want to hear over the radio. Unfortunately, dash 2 has G-Loc’d and is headed straight for the ground.
The good news: Auto GCAS has kicked in and helped save a life.
Auto GCAS is designed to prevent CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) mishaps by executing an automatic recovery maneuver when terrain impact is imminent. The system predicts those conditions by means of a continuous comparison between a trajectory prediction and a terrain profile that is generated from onboard terrain elevation data.
At the instant the predicted trajectory touches the terrain profile, the automatic recovery is executed by the Auto GCAS autopilot. The automatic recovery consists of an abrupt roll-to-upright and a nominal 5-G pull until terrain clearance is assured.
In the above video, the recovery happened exactly as programmed by Auto GCAS.
“I started to roll and started to pull and I’m following (the instructor pilot) with my eyes,” Ocho (callsign only, name withheld) said. “The next thing I remember is just waking up and hearing ‘recover.’ It happened so fast. Usually, (when experienced at pulling Gs), most people get tunnel vision that gradually comes in. That’s what I always get, but that day I didn’t get anything.”
One of the most dangerous positions for G-loc is to be in a high G turn with your head turned to side looking for the other aircraft. The ability to perform the hook maneuver is limited and the velocity of blood flow to the brain is reduced.
Think of bending a garden hose in half, the flow of water is reduced immediately. The same thing happens in a high G turn while turning your head. Blood flow is reduced to the brain with a turn of the head and neck. Unconsciousness in this position at 6-7 G’s or greater is a very real possibility.
Fortunately, a system has been developed to prevent the aircraft from CFIT when the pilot becomes unconscious.
After nearly three decades of development by the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Lockheed Martin and the Air Force Research Laboratory, operational Auto GCAS systems began being installed throughout the Air Force F-16 fleet in 2013.
Lt. Col. Chris Keithley, the 416th FLTS commander remarked, “To date, this technology has saved four pilots’ lives in training and combat. This means their families didn’t lose a husband, father, son or brother. It also means they’re able to serve their country another day. It’s a huge win and I can’t overstate how meaningful it is.”
Yes, it is a huge win. Everybody fighter pilot has a friend that could have been saved by this technology. Hopefully, all fighter aircraft will have Auto-GCAS soon. And that’s a win for everybody.
You can read Kenji Thuloweit, from the 412th Test Wing Public Affairs full article here.
Top Photo: Captain Joe “Rocket” Schenkel demonstrates the high-speed agility of the Block 50 F-16CJ during an airpower demonstration at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. (ScottWolff)