An Autopilot System on an F-16 Saved an Unconscious Fighter Pilot

The plane fell about 1,310 meters in less than 20 seconds.

9. 15. 16 by Michelle Lee
 Gyrojet
Image by Gyrojet

Flying fighter jets seems like a pretty exhilarating task. No pilot is going to fall asleep on the job out of boredom. Unfortunately, an intense amount of G-force could cause a pilot to pass out. That’s what happened to a U.S. Air Force trainee pilot with the call sign Ocho.

Ocho was performing some basic exercise maneuvers over the US southwest when he fell unconscious in his F-16 after reaching 8.3G. A trained pilot can typically handle up to 9G, while your average person can only handle about 5G without fainting. In less than 20 seconds, the plane fell around 1,310 meters (4,300 feet). The pilot barely escaped death, as the F-16’s Auto-GCAS (Ground Collision Avoidance System) took over and flew the aircraft to safety.

Auto-GCAS was a collaborative effort between NASA, the Air Force, and Lockheed Martin. The system works by comparing and analyzing the aircraft’s flight trajectory to the terrain below.

“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’s a huge win and I can’t overstate how meaningful it is.” said Lt. Col. Chris Keithley, commander of the 416th Flight Test Squadron.

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