[This Friday post is part of our “Composite coverage: real lightweight stuff” series and a departure from SAE International’s traditional reporting approach. Let us know if you like our fun, conversational, and most likely irreverent coverage of legitimate news and notable events.]
The only human-rated centrifuge in the Department of Defense just gained full operational capability (FOC). The centrifuge, located at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio is capable of producing 20 times the force of gravity, or Gs, and can accelerate up to 15 Gs in one second.
But, usually flight students stick to a nine-G limit. Or five, if you’re the average person.
The equipment itself racks up some pretty impressive numbers: It has around 4,700 horsepower and generates 850,409 pounds feet of torque. If I was SAE International’s automotive editor, I’d tell you that that’s more combined horsepower than three 2018 Bugatti Chirons.
And as for the torque, let’s just leave it as its “a lot.” A lot of torque.
Beyond serving as an excellent location to shoot James Bond fan films – à la Moonraker – the equipment will be helpful in teaching the effects of G-forces on human physiology and measuring students’ abilities to counteract the effects in an effort to prevent G-induced loss of consciousness.
The idea of a centrifuge dates back to English Military Engineer Benjamin Robins’ 1742 treatise on New Principles of Gunnery and the description of a ballistic pendulum for determining aerodynamic drag. The first person to put people on one for research was Erasmus Darwin – physician, part-time poet, friend of Benjamin Franklin, and grandfather of Charles Darwin – in 1795.
Since then, the U.S. had stepped up its own spinning-people-around-really-fast game. I mean, it REALLY did, back in the 1950s. That’s when we thought we needed one with a peak burst output of 16,000 horsepower (10.82 Chirons). But hey, space race.
Here’s some recently acquired footage of that.
“What is the timeliness and context of establishing a fully-capable, human-rated centrifuge,” you might ask?
“A device such as this is needed now more than ever,” stated Brig. Gen. Mark Koeniger, 711th Human Performance Wing commander, who presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating centrifuge FOC on August 2. “With the extreme performance that is possible in our aircraft today, it is paramount that we provide the best training possible for these aircrew members. This centrifuge will do just that.”
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fifth-generation, single seat, twin-engine, all-weather, Freedom-defending stealth tactical fighter aircraft just raptorin’ around at the 2010 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. (Image source: Lockheed Martin)
For perspective, the U.S.’s first fifth-generation fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22 – while aerodynamically capable of pulling over nine Gs – has an upper G-limit of around nine imposed by its flight control computer.
Even with that nine-G limit, pilots needed to undergo training to learn proper breathing techniques in order to handle the “super maneuverable” aircraft during high-G maneuvers without passing out.
With FOC, the Air Force expects approximately 1,200 students – including fighter pilots, aircrew members, flight surgeons, and aerospace physiologists – will now receive training per year.
The centrifuge has a unique capability, explained Koeniger. It has three cockpits and they can be linked together with the control room to create a virtual battle space. It also has a motorized pitch and roll system to create a more realistic “I’m flying” sensation.
Col. Alden Hilton, commander at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM), provided opening remarks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, stating that he had been in two centrifuges – one at Holloman Air Force Base and the other at Brooks City-Base.
It’s a good time to be alive if you’re a centrifuge fan. [left to right] Col. Alden Hilton, USAFSAM commander, Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, Air Force Surgeon General, Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander, and Brig. Gen. Mark Koeniger, 711th Human Performance Wing commander, pose just before cutting the ribbon during the Aug. 2, 2018 ceremony. (Image source: U.S. Air Force)
“I’ll just say that centrifuge training—is a necessary evil,” said Hilton, which invoked laughter from the audience that included Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg and Air Force Research Laboratory Commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley.
USAFSAM, which is part of the 711the Human Performance Wing and the AFRL, was established in 1918 and is the premier institute for education, research, and worldwide operational consultation in aerospace and operational medicine. USAFSAM has been a leader in the field of aerospace medicine and human performance from the beginnings of aviation through the onset of the space age and into the present.
“We are 100 percent committed to using this extraordinary training and research device to keep aircrew safe, advance science, and develop technologies that keep our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines the most capable fighting force in the world,” Koeniger said.
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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at email@example.com.
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