Murphy's Law: Gravity 1, Flight Simulators 0


March 28, 2007: Attempts to create flight simulators that are 100 percent realistic have always fallen short when it comes to recreating the g-forces encountered during violent maneuvering by fighters. Gravity cannot be simulated realistically. G-forces are not a problem for most other aircraft, but it's a critical shortcoming for modern fighters. Over the last decade, more powerful engines, and computer assisted flight controls, have enabled fighters to not only execute increasingly violent maneuvers, but to do it more quickly and in different directions. Because of this, medical doctors have gotten involved in the design of these aircraft, and of the simulators as well. This is because the flight control systems have to be designed so that the aircraft cannot easily make a maneuver that the pilot cannot handle.

For over half a century, aircraft have been capable to executing maneuvers, usually sharp turns while moving at high speeds, that create a gravitational force (g-force) that causes the pilot to black out. If a pilot is properly equipped, with special flight suits that use small liquid or air filled bladders to help prevent blood from rushing from the brain, and causing a blackout, during high g force maneuvers, a g-force nine times normal gravity ("9 gs") can be tolerated.

In the last few decades, computer assisted flight controls have been developed that prevent the pilot from executing a maneuver that would exceed 9 gs. But as aircraft become faster and more agile, there were more directions the aircraft can be going while pulling lots of gs. Pilots now have to worry about neck injuries, if they execute certain maneuvers without positioning their head just so. Just another thing to keep in mind during a dog fight.

There are several ways to avoid these problems. The U.S. Air Force has put a lot of time and money into developing powerful radars, and long range missiles (like Sparrow and AMRAAM) that eliminate the need for most high speed maneuvers. You still find yourself doing some fancy flying to get into position to fire an AMRAAM, but nothing like what you would do if using a shorter range heat seeker (like Sidewinder) in a traditional dog fight. Also, when your sensors spot a long range missile headed your way, some violent maneuvers can help, but the most protection you're going to get is from electronic countermeasures and decoys. American pilots still practice using short range missiles, but not as much in the past. Short range fighting is a higher risk operation that is best avoided.

The ultimate solution to this medical problem is to use UAVs for air-to-air combat. That's under development, and has been for several decades. The current concept is to have a human pilot remotely controlling a UAV fighter. This was tried as long ago as the 1970s, and found to work quite well. But reliability and security (maintaining the radio link) issues have delayed the arrival of UAV fighters. Senior air force officers (most of them fighter pilots) have not been terribly enthusiastic about this particular new technology. But the fact is that it's becoming too expensive, and dangerous, to keep humans on board combat aircraft.




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