Nightmare at 18,000 feet.
A military flight exercise in Oregon turned disastrous after a student pilot blacked out during a maneuver. Fortunately, he was able to wake up from the flightmare and guide the plane to safety — but not before causing some serious damage to his aircraft.
The harrowing near-miss occurred this past March over Oregon, where an unnamed apprentice aviator and his instructor were conducting a two-aircraft mission simulation in separate F-15C jets, reports Popular Science.
The routine drill went sideways after the pilot attempted a tricky turn and passed out due to the accelerated gravitational forces. Specifically, the G-forces had caused blood to flow down from the student’s head, rapidly inducing unconsciousness.
As a result, the plane was left hurtling through the air at approximately 18,000 feet with no one at the controls.
Fortunately, the cadet awoke from his impromptu in-flight nap 11 seconds later, and safely landed the fighter plane along with his instructor. Neither were injured in the incident.
But the F-15 didn’t fare as well — the force of the maneuver caused damage to the wings, tail and fuselage, totaling more than $2.5 million dollars.
While the fainting flyboy survived the ordeal, the calamitous case does illustrate the perils of operating fighter jets even during training exercises, says Cheryl Lowry, a physician, aerospace medicine expert and retired Air Force colonel.
“Despite good training, and good aircraft, and good procedures, things still happen,” she tells Popular Science.
And they’re happening at an increased rate. Between October 1, 2018 to September, 30, 2019, the Air Force Safety Center recorded 12 incidents of G-induced loss of consciousness (GLOC), the majority of them involving student pilots. This is slightly more than in years past, according to the Air Force Safety Center. But the public doesn’t always hear about them, since nothing truly disastrous happened.
Fortunately, the Oregon mishap has prompted the formation of an Air Force Safety Investigation Board report, and the overall safety system has “gotten better and…more automated,” according to Lowry.
Despite advancements, 2018 and 2019 saw a global uptick in airplane accidents, reports USA Today. The most infamous incident occurred on October 29, 2018, when a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 passengers.
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