Spin Down

Thousands of Air Force pilots trained on the Holloman centrifuge. Now a better ride is coming.

The Holloman centrifuge has been shut down after more than 20 years of training Air Force pilots. (USAF/ Senior Airman Veronica Stamps)

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Regaining consciousness after a G-LOC is disorienting, similar to waking up from a nap. It can take a few seconds for trainees to figure out what’s happened and where they are. Rivera says one of his students woke up thinking she was in her bed back in San Antonio, worried that she was late for school.

Some students post video of their centrifuge training sessions on YouTube, which opens them up to jokes about their performance. But for fighter pilots, AGSM training can be a matter of life and death. In March 2009, an F-22 test pilot flying out of Edwards AFB was killed after he A-LOC’ed during a high-G maneuver. His fighter plummeted toward the ground as he tried to regain his focus, but it was too late.

“You gotta think that the AGSM is only a small piece in their pie when they’re trying to think about fighting maneuvers,” says Rivera. “We try to make this training so intense and so ingrained into their body and their muscle memory that it comes as second nature to them. Because if they’re doing all these other maneuvers… and they start pulling Gs, the possibility of them G-LOC’ing and people dying and losing aircraft just increases exponentially.”

Most of the centrifuge training crew from Holloman will move to Wright-Patterson, along with the researchers from Brooks. Rivera, though, will be staying on at Holloman to help with safety protocols. Among other things, he’ll be checking in on the pilots to make sure their AGSM stays sharp.

Rivera says he and his colleagues are excited about the future of centrifuge training. For one thing, the facility at Wright-Patterson will feature a few technical improvements over the ones at Holloman and Brooks. The new centrifuge will be able to swing its gondola in any direction, allowing trainees to simulate Gs in a number of thrust vectors. While some researchers study how the body is affected by different types of G forces, others will be able to test equipment like compressive G-suits that help pilots keep blood in their upper bodies.

Overall, Rivera thinks the combination of research and training will be a plus for both. “[Centrifuge work] has been slowly developing, it’s been improving,” he says. “We’re trying to make this program the best program out there.”

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