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Pulling Gs gets easier

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Pull 8 Gs with a can of beer in one hand................




"Most pilots come from the F-16, F-15 and A-10 legacy aircraft. Sensors on the front of the F-35 allow us to have that 360-degree awareness. That was the big leap forward. Computer technology that is 30 years or more advanced than the legacy aircraft is what makes the F-35 so advanced."

Lt. Col. Anthony Pelkington is the 33rd FW chief of safety and was one of the first of the legacy pilots selected for the F-35 program. He said that for pilots transitioning from those legacy systems, the F-35 is a huge deal.

"For 10 years in the F-16, I dealt with essentially monochrome cathode ray displays - approximately 6 inch square - and I've got two of them. Now I move up to a contiguous 8 x 20- inch color display that is a huge step forward for the pilot's situational awareness. Plus, there's a lot more capability in the display itself.

"In the F-16, I had a radar display with a selectable, like turning pages in a book, something that would show my ordnances like I had a stick figure map with monochrome lines on a black background. It would try to give us a semblance of where we were to maybe a weapons system. But I had to choose. Every one of those displays was limited to the confines of that small 6-inch to 8-inch screen.

"In the F-35, we now have this massive amount of screen real estate. I can now see multiple sensors at once, which is great because I don't have to pick and choose. I don't have to take away my situational awareness with what the radar is telling me in terms of traffic to bring up situational awareness and what the target pod looks like. It's all there available for me."

Pelkington added that one of the best aspects of the fifth generation fighter is its ability to communicate with all aspects of the aircraft, as well as customize information to fit each pilot's needs. "The displays talk to each other, the sensors talk to each other, and a lot of information is displayed in sensible formats with other sensors in one combined picture. Now I can bring up large formats on displays so I can see things easier - I can even bring up many formats if I want with a different orientation on how the displays will look. Whatever I want to do to aid my situational awareness I can do and the reality, as a pilot, is that I can customize that setup quite easily to a format that best suits how a pilot understands."

The wing's safety chief said that one of the biggest advantages to the F-35 over legacy aircraft is the growth in options. "Choosing between a pilot's eye and 'god's eye are all in the system now and weren't in the F-16. I had one particular display option for radar format for the F-16 - I couldn't choose anything else. I had to learn to read it in that manner. Which didn't necessarily match how somebody looking out on a battlefield could see the picture. So you always had to do that conversion in your mind. With the F-35 you can choose the display format that best suits your ability, and there are multiple options to allow you to see things from a 'god's eye' perspective. It allows me to see from a much greater perspective than the F-16 ever allowed."

The equipment

Tech. Sgt. Andre Baskin is the wing's aircrew flight equipment NCOIC, responsible for equipping pilots with the specialized gear required to fly the world's most state-of-the-art aircraft. He and his small staff of specialists agree that the differences between the F-35 helmet and the rest are many.

"One of the biggest differences the F-35 helmet has over the others is that the new helmet encompasses multiple gadgets such as night vision goggles, and for that function you would have to modify the pilot's flying helmet and add the components on there," said Baskin. "With the F-35, it's all encompassed in the helmet. The cameras on the jet work in sync with the helmet and whatever the jet picks up visually will be displayed on the visor in the helmet."

From a pilot's point of view, Renbarger agrees that the nicest part of the new helmet is that everything is self-contained. "The best thing about the F-35 helmet is that it has a big visor with a big display, and we can display a night vision camera visual on the visor and then a distributor aperture system that is basically a set of cameras that are all over the airplane and work in the infrared spectrum. That can be displayed on our visor as well.

"When we get our helmet fit, there is actually a complicated scan process that takes an image of our heads and provides a laser cut-out foam insert for the helmet that is molded to our heads. Then there's ear cups that close the helmet around our head and a custom nape strap in the back that basically locks the helmet down on our heads. There's very little, if any, motion in the helmet when we move our head around. Very well balanced, a very well fit and it feels great wearing the helmet. It's very specific to each individual pilot."

Pelkington also talked about the difference between the traditional G-suit, which offers pilots about a G and a half of protection, to the one used by F-35 pilots. "Some pilots acclimate to the Gs by genetic makeup, some by experience and can develop a tolerance for 5-ish Gs. With the new suit you can now go up to 7 or 8 Gs without ever having to strain. When you're focused on pulling Gs -- on making sure your eyesight doesn't gray out - your mind isn't thinking about the adversary or the situation or the awareness of the battlespace. When you can pull 7 or 8 Gs without having to think about it, combined with the fusion of all the systems and the display on the glass set up the way you want to see it...it's an amazing reduction in pilot workload."




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