IAF zeroes in on early g-force training
The Israel Air Force is modifying its pilot training methods based on lessons gleaned from the death of Captain Asaf Ramon in a training exercise last year. Ramon's F-16 aircraft crashed in September after he apparently lost consciousness during flight, amid accelerated flight speed and high g-force.
The new regulations stipulate that, at an early stage of training, pilots will practice in a centrifuge flight simulator that recreates intense cabin conditions. Such training was previously held during relatively advanced stages of the pilots' course.
Ramon - son of Israel's first astronaut and former fighter pilot Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the 2003 Columbia space disaster - was participating in a training exercise in the Judean Desert when the deadly crash occurred. He had not trained on the centrifuge simulator prior to accident, but his death prompted air force chief Maj. Gen. Ido Nehoshtan to appoint an inquiry panel to address the question of whether pilots were adequately prepared for the grueling conditions of an F-16 cockpit.
The panel reached the conclusion that "human error" had caused the accident, and found that Ramon lost consciousness while taking off under 9-g conditions - that is, air pressure nine times heavier than the force of gravity. Following the panel's recommendations, Nehoshtan ordered a series of measures be taken to improve pilots' ability to contend with high air pressure.
The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's office told Haaretz: "The air force chief has instructed that training in a centrifuge - which recreates high g-forces - be included at an earlier stage than previously practiced."
Col. (res.) Yigal Shohat, a former fighter pilot who served as chief of the air force's medical division in the mid-1980s, told Haaretz that he had identified a rise in instances in which pilots lost consciousness under heavy g-forces while attending a 1968 training course run by the U.S. Air Force.
Upon returning to Israel, Shohat discovered the same phenomenon among Israeli pilots, who on several occasions he observed losing consciousness for several seconds while flying before regaining their faculties and stabilizing the aircraft.
Following a recent near-crash at a Negev air force base under similar circumstances to Ramon's crash, Shohat used the plane's black box to help provide instruction at several air force bases.
Following his recommendations, top air force brass became increasingly convinced of the need to include centrifuge training during early stages of the F-16 pilots' course.