NASA collision avoidance system saves unconscious pilot from crashing to the ground

G-LOC, or G-force induced loss of consciousness, is common among fighter pilots traveling at extreme speeds. Luckily, a NASA-supported collision avoidance system can step in to take over

    2016/10/10

NSFW    EDWARDS, CALIFORNIA — Last month, a NASA-supported collision avoidance system saved the life of an F-16 pilot in a fourth confirmed rescue. It was the fourth confirmed case where the Auto-GCAS has rescued an aircraft since it was introduced into the Air Force F-16 fleet in late 2014, according to Aviation Week.

NASA reported that the Tucson Air National Guard was conducting a standard training exercise with basic fighter maneuvers in F-16s when a student pilot was engaged in an exercise where he and his instructor tried to out-maneuver the each other.

Following the pass, the student, traveling at over 8 Gs, lost consciousness. This effect, known as G-LOC (G-force induced loss of consciousness), is a common among pilots traveling at high speeds, during which the the heart and vascular system may not be able supply blood and oxygen to the brain fast enough, which leads to a loss of consciousness.

After experiencing G-LOC, the student’s aircraft continued accelerating toward the ground. As the instructor attempted to call out to the unconscious student to recover, the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) kicked in and performed an automatic, stabilizing pull-up, bringing the plane in an upright position.

The Auto-GCAS is designed to constantly compare the aircraft’s trajectory with that of a terrain profile obtained from an onboard digital terrain database, according to NASA. If a threat is detected, warning signals are given to the pilot. If no action is taken, the system takes control away from the pilot and executes an evasion command. Control is returned to the pilot as soon as the aircraft is on a safe trajectory.

Auto-GCAS has been continually developed over 30 years in a collaboration between NASA, the Air Force Research Lab and Lockheed Martin. The effects of g-force on the human body, including grey out, tunnel vision, blackout and G-LOC have been studied as early as 1919. Fighter pilots are heavily trained to endure high levels of g force, with many even having lost their lives in the process.
F-16 aircrafts have been equipped with NASA-supported collision avoidance systems. NASA / CARLA THOMAS
F-16 aircrafts have been equipped with NASA-supported collision avoidance systems. NASA / CARLA THOMAS
Last month, the system, Auto-GCAS, saved the fourth confirmed life of a pilot. The pilot-in-training had suffered G-LOC midair. YOUTUBE / NASA ARMSTRONG FLIGHT RESEARCH CENTER
Last month, the system, Auto-GCAS, saved the fourth confirmed life of a pilot. The pilot-in-training had suffered G-LOC midair. YOUTUBE / NASA ARMSTRONG FLIGHT RESEARCH CENTER
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