In the air, the cockpit turns into a steamroller of different pressures. G-force, when exerted on the pilot or other team members, can cause unconsciousness, blurred vision and other side effects. How do pilots manage to deal with this mighty force?
In our everyday lives, we encounter strange forces that pull on our bodies: When the elevator goes up, when the train stops, or when the carousel turns. This force is called G-force, and it causes the body to feel a gravitational pull toward a certain direction. The combat pilots of the world are not exempt from the laws of physics, but the G-force in the cockpit is far more powerful than that of an elevator and endangers the lives of the pilots no less than hostile anti-aircraft batteries.
What Does G-force Do to a Person’s Body?
The origin of the name “G-force” comes from the words gravity, but it is not directly related to the gravity force of the earth, rather the acceleration of gravity. “It is hard to describe the feeling: Everything feels terribly heavy and it is hard to raise your hands. You have to adapt to this feeling”, explains Lieutenant S’, a combat pilot who recently finished the aviation course, when describing how it feels when a high G-force is exerted during a flight. “For comparison, the G-force we feel on the ground is 1 G’. When the plane takes a sharp turn at high speed, it builds up G-force that is exerted downwards on the pilot, and it can reach up to 9 G’. A person weighing 90 kilos will feel as if he weighs 600 kilos.
The danger of G-force lies in what happens in the body of a pilot when the force is exerted: The blood flow in the body of the pilot is affected by the intense downward force he feels, and his heart has difficulty pumping blood to the brain, which may lead to unconsciousness, the pilot may experience additional symptoms like blackouts or gray vision. “I experience a less extreme symptom”, explains Lieutenant S’. “I stopped seeing along the sides: My vision became narrow and it felt like I was seeing through a pipe”.
Beating the G-force
To deal with the massive force, the aerial teams wear G-suits that are designed to produce pressure on the legs and stomach in order to allow the blood to flow back to the brain. Additionally, the aerial teams have to condition their bodies accordingly. “There is a particular form of breathing and very strong muscle-flexing that is supposed to prevent the negative symptoms of the G [-force]”, he adds. “In the plane, there is the G [-force] meter, but the most important thing is that you learn to feel the physical sensation in your body”.
Furthermore, the teams undergo training in a special simulator in Holland that simulates G-force. “The simulator simulates the cockpit of an F-16 jet that is connected to a hinge in the middle of a circular room, and when you chase after an enemy, the simulator spins faster and faster, and the rapid rotation exerts G-force”, explains Lieutenant S’, who recently returned from a training session. “This feels weird. I know the feeling from the flights during the advanced stages of the pilot course, where we reached 5 G with the ‘Skyhawk’ and ‘Beechcraft T-6 Texan II’, but we never reached 8 or 9 G”.