Watch This F-16’s Autopilot Save an Unconscious Pilot’s Life
by BEN SULLIVAN
The U.S. Air Force has declassified video footage of the moment an F-16 fighter’s Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System — Auto-GCAS — saved a pilot’s life.
The heads-up-display video, spotted by Aviation Week, shows how the Auto-GCAS system kicked in on the Arizona Air National Guard F-16 as it plummeted from 17,000 feet to 5,000 feet in fewer than 20 seconds.
The pilot, rendered unconscious after pulling out of a high-G turn during the training flight, was unable to control the aircraft or respond to his instructor’s radio messages as the plane rolled left into a 50-degree dive, reaching a speed of more than 600 knots.
G-force induced loss of consciousness, or G-LOC, is a particular concern for fighter pilots who perform strenuous maneuvers. Aviation Week reported that the pilot blacked out after pulling out of an 8.3-G turn. The force of standard gravity is one G.
At around 8,000 feet, the Auto-GCAS — which continuously compares an aircraft’s predicted trajectory with on-board data about the terrain — recognized the dire situation the student pilot was in and engaged the aircraft into a maneuver that pulled the pilot out of danger.
According to Aviation Week, this is the fourth confirmed incident of the Auto-GCAS system saving a pilot’s life since the system’s introduction in late 2014.
“I started to roll and started to pull and I’m following [the instructor pilot] with my eyes,” the student pilot said in a official press statement. “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.”
“It’s definitely a valuable system,” said Maj. Luke O’Sullivan, the student’s instructor — who can be heard on the video footage. “It does what it’s supposed to and it works.”
Auto-GCAS was jointly developed by NASA, the USAF and Lockheed Martin. After extensive and evidently successful testing in F-16s, there are plans to implement the systems on F-22, F-35 and F/A-18 aircraft.
Originally published at motherboard.vice.com.