Combat manoeuvres in a supersonic fighter jet expose the pilot to dynamic gravitational forces — or G-forces — which decrease blood pressure in the head. This can lead to loss of vision, 'grey-outs', 'black-outs' or even 'G-LOC' (G-induced loss of consciousness).
But rookie IAF pilots need not worry any longer. After the "Hawk" advanced jet trainers, they will now also have "an advanced human centrifuge" to learn how to handle high G-forces while flying new air-superiority fighters like the Sukhoi-30MKIs.
That's not all. IAF is also inducting three "disorientation simulators" to train pilots in taking corrective actions when faced with spatial disorientation and poor situational awareness during flying, which is a fairly frequent phenomenon.
Director-general of medical services (air) Air Marshal P Bandopadhyay, the first woman to reach the Lt-Gen rank in IAF, told TOI that the contract for the state-of-the-art human centrifuge from Austria, to be installed at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM) in Bangalore, "has been finally inked".
"This centrifuge (costing around Rs 100 crore) will be fully operational by 2008. Similarly, the first disorientation simulator has now been installed at IAM. The other two will probably be installed at the Hindon airbase and the Air Force Academy to train pilots," she added.
IAF pilots, at the moment, make do with rudimentary G-tolerance training on outdated human centrifuges of 1965-vintage. The new centrifuge will ensure that young pilots learn how to tackle sustained high G-forces and G-onset conditions, comparable to the most advanced fighter jets, while being trained on the ground.
"This, in turn, will enhance their performance in air combat manoeuvres and target-tracking, while maintaining spatial orientation and situational awareness," said an officer.
Apart from features like pilot control and realistic visuals, the new human centrifuge will have a "rate of onset" equal to "15 G per second" as opposed to "2 G per second" of the older model.
This training will especially be relevant for multi-role fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs, which will be the mainstay of IAF's war-waging potential for the next two decades.
The Sukhoi-30MKIs, incidentally, can undertake mind-boggling manoeuvres due to "a unique combination of canard wings and vectored thrust". The fighter's tremendous manoeuvrability even allows it to shoot up in the air and be still for some time to resemble a cobra with a stretched hood.