So you hear the word centrifuge and what comes to mind? That crazy fair ride from childhood, what did they call it, the Gravitron? Or does it drum up black and white photos in your head of USAF Colonel John Paul Stapp’s face stretched all the way back as he rocketed down rails during his ejection seat testing? If you’re a pilot and search YouTube for interesting aviation videos as much as I do then you’ve probably also witnessed the funny videos of military aviators going through centrifuge training – some successfully and some not so successfully. And yet, even with all of these somewhat unnerving sites and thoughts I have to admit that when I saw that the NASTAR Center was looking for aerobatic pilots to volunteer for a research project using their Phoenix full-fidelity sustained-G flight simulator I jumped at the opportunity!
You might be saying to yourself, what the heck is a full-fidelity sustained-G flight simulator…I know I was! After spending more than a week there “flying” in it each day I can now say that it is a very impressive machine. Imagine a centrifuge that can be manipulated on all axes and that inside lies a cockpit (which is interchangeable) that is the replica of an F-15. Sounds like fun to any pilot, right? Well, for the research we were more like a guinea pig and less like a pilot as we were riding through profiles instead of flying, but the last day once testing was finished up we got to each try our hand at an actual flight – and this included a carrier launch and attempted trap (I know, I know…F15’s don’t land on carriers…we took a little creative leeway with the flight).
With a simulator that can easily do +9 and – (I don’t want to know) all I can say is wow. I will admit I was definitely a skeptic when I arrived – I have played a lot of video flying games an have even gotten the opportunity to fly the T-37 full motion sim as well as the T-6 Texan II’s 270 degree wrap-around simulator but none of them really felt real. As soon as the door was secured closed as I was spun up to idle speed I will fully admit I was 100% immersed in the experience and it definitely felt real! Loops, rolls, the world’s BIGGEST immelman – it was all there – the G’s felt right, the sensations felt right, I was flying an F-15! I’m sure you’re wondering if I successfully trapped and alas I must admit I balked – but it was a nice carrier touch-and-go!
Although this was very fun and exciting I must give one more thought on this – it’s really about training, and this machine is something that I believe holds that power to increase the quality of aviation training both for the military as well as for the airlines by leaps and bounds. By providing sensations that mirror actual flight sensations perfectly the pilots are even more likely to lose themselves in the experience and forget the fact they are in a simulator increasing their learning capabilities as well as inducing more appropriate human reaction to emergency situations. This definitely isn’t your grandma’s flight simulator!