Royal Navy F-35 and Hawk pilots will be better prepared for extreme G forces thanks to a new £44m hi-tech trainer.
Every fast jet pilot in the Fleet Air Arm will use the High-G trainer – also known as a centrifuge – which simulates the effects of gravity on the human body and an aviator’s reactions and responses.
Pilots wear special flying suits to limit the effects of gravity, but can still suffer from black outs – potentially fatal, even for a split second.
To prepare them for such forces, a centrifuge has been spinning pilots round and round at speed in Farnborough since the mid-50s, when second generation fighters such as the Scimitar were entering service with the Fleet Air Arm.
That centrifuge could do little more than subject pilots to extreme G forces. Its successor at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire incorporates a simulator as well to see how aviators respond to the pressure – and whether they can still safely fly a jet.
The sim – which replicates Hawk, Typhoon and F-35 cockpits – can be used to recreate anything a pilot might encounter, such as the strains of dogfighting and the extreme G forces likely to exert themselves while trying to evade an incoming missile (which is a bit Hollywood – see Behind Enemy Lines).
“We are really looking forward to using the new High-G training facility,” said Lt Cdr Matt ‘Deavers’ Deavin, Commanding Officer of the RN’s Hawk squadron, 736 NAS, which develops fast jet combat tactics and tests the responses of warships to mock air attacks.
“The new facility provides higher and more realistic G onset rates, features a Hawk cockpit and enables the trainee to instigate high G training serials via the use of the flying controls.
“Our Senior Pilot has already ‘flown’ it and declared it a fantastic upgrade to the G tolerance training suite our pilots benefit from.
Hawks can pull up to 8 Gs (a Formula 1 driver experiences 3 to 5G when racing) during routine sorties which can cause severe stress on the body and senses. That’s why the ability to practice our G coping strategies and systems in a benign environment is vital.”
Around 300 pilots will clamber into the centrifuge ‘cockpit’ with fast jet pilots expected to undergo testing at least once every five years.
They’ll be spun around up to 34 times per minute – the centrifuge can accelerate to 9G (that’s nine times the weight of gravity) pulling at or pressing down on the human body.
The device will also be used to trial and test new equipment to be used on fast jets and by the pilots.