A newly completed £44million facility to prepare the next generations of fast jet pilots to cope with the high ‘G forces’ involved in air combat has been unveiled at RAF College Cranwell.
The High G Training and Test Facility was officially opened by Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier at a ceremony on Monday, when he literally ‘went for a spin’ in the centrifuge which forms the showpiece of the newly developed RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine, which is relocating to Cranwell from RAF Henlow.
It is the culmination of a five year project and has taken contractors Galliford Try two years to build, with the centrifuge itself designed, built and installed by Austrian technical firm AMST.
To house the 7.5m-long arm and ‘gondola’ which carries the training pilot, 4.5metre-deep foundations were dug to fit the central motor into the ground which was lifted in by crane.
It replaces the 62-year-old old facility at Farnborough which was now deemed too slow to handle the needs of modern fast jet pilots training to fly the Typhoon and Lightning. Rather than simply spinning the pilot around to experience the effects, the new, fully representative cockpit has a programmable computer generated simulation of the view from the aircraft to give the pilot the full impression of turns and rolls rather than just concentrating on coping with the G forces.
The gondola view can be programmed as a Hawk, Typhoon or Lightning and each pilot would be in the centrifuge for about 20 minutes.
Having formally opened the facility, Sir Stephen had a go in the centrifuge, going up to about 6 G. It has reached 12 G in testing.
He said: “Personally it gives me great pleasure to see us now have a facility that gives us exactly what we need for the air force in the 21st century for that next generation. It will enhance our safety and operational effectiveness.
“It also gives us opportunity to trial our equipment in a representative environment which is really important.”
Air Commodore David McLoughlin, Air Officer Medical Operations, in charge of the High G testing programme and Centre for Aviation Medicine, said six training courses have used the new facility at RAF Cranwell since it came on stream in December.
He said overall reaction from that next generation of pilots has been extremely positive, with comments such as “awesome”, “can I have another go” and “best training I have had” made by trainees.
Medical officers are also gaining confidence that students can properly combat the effects of G while flying an aircraft. It will mean increased safety by improving confidence of pilots when handling the effects of G, acting as a regular refresher too, as well as testing out new kit.
Alongside the RAF medical experts, the instruction will be provided by Thales training facilitators who are ex-fast jet aircrew, along with equipment fitters and engineers.
David Bolsover, Training manager at the facility, explained that experiencing a turn at 8 G would mean your body would effectively weigh eight times normal gravity, forcing you down into the seat. “If you were not wearing any protective equipment then you have to tense your body and squeeze the blood back up from your extremities. You don’t want to be first learning G strain in an aircraft. In the Lightning or Typhoon you wear inflating trousers or a whole body G suit that does some of that work for you.”
Air Cdre McLoughlin said: “America, China, Russia, India and a small number of other countries have a high performance centrifuge and now the UK joins that list of nations.”
He said: “It is a world class facility. Up until this point we had the old centrifuge but it is at the end of its life and is very slow. This moves in all three directions, is much more representative and can move from one to nine G in nine seconds - that is much more like the performance of the aircraft today.”
He said within the gondola they can fit in mock cockpits of each of the aircraft they train for.
The Air Commodore said there are currently about 150 people woring in the Centre for Aviation Medicine at Henlow and so there would be quite an increase in volume of people coming to Cranwell, along with many more coming to train for short periods.
He added: “We want to take the opportunity to make the rest of the centre a world class facility and are looking at what the Americans are doing along with the Germans and French and so on.”
Commenting on the Sir Stephen’s flight in the simulator, he felt he had done really well, considering he does not get to fly much these days.