The Blue Angel's G-Tolerance Improvement Program: Measuring G-Fitness
The thrilling, exciting, and sheer badass nature of the fighter pilot career field comes with an immense level of responsibility and commitment, especially when you’re a Navy Blue Angel F-18 Pilot. Unlike other F/A-18 pilots, Blue Angel pilots do not wear G-suits during training or performances. The eliminated blatter protection presents higher threats of GLOC, ALOC, and general physiological concerns during high performance aviation. In order to combat the unique, high-risk scenarios these pilots are experiencing, further preparation on the ground is required to enhance performance, situational awareness, and capabilities in the F/A-18 Hornet. To mitigate the risks associated with advanced maneuvering without G-suits, the Navy created the G-Tolerance Improvement Program (GTIP) for the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (NFDS). This research article examines the nature and effectiveness of the GTIP with regards to handling the physiological demands of G-forces.
Why exactly do Blue Angel pilots fly without the protection of a G-suit? Simply put, they seek to maximize control of the aircraft and enhance precision. With the flight-stick located between the legs, the inflatable properties of the G-suit can cause unwanted movement, adjust a pilot’s body-position, and inhibit maximum flight-stick deflections, jeopardizing the safety of advanced precision flying. Why design the F-18 without a side-stick controller, you might ask? Ergonomically speaking, a side-stick controller may be beneficial for supporting the pilot’s hand during high G-maneuvers, and might maximize the display area in the center console. However, the F-18 was designed prior to the prevalence of fly-by-wire controls, and cannot be transitioned to a side-stick controller.
The GTIP’s primary purpose is to elevate G-tolerance through enhanced centrifuge training and a personal strength exercise program, sustained through hydration, nutrition, and sleep habits. The CFET hypothesizes that the proper combination of physical, nutritional, and centrifugal preparation is the most effective form of training Blue Angels for their aerial demonstrations. The strategy taken to improve a pilot’s Anti-G Strain Maneuver includes an anaerobic/aerobic training program with emphasis on core and lower body strength, paired with a high G-force centrifuge profile. This portion of the training includes briefings on G-tolerance, +Gz induced loss of consciousness (G/A-LOC), anatomic/physiological effects of G-forces, G-related spatial disorientation, nutrition, physical fitness and hypoxia awareness (Hollingsworth). Furthermore, five profiles outlined by the Centrifuge-based Flight Environmental Staff (CFET) have proved effective in elevating the AGSM ability of both new and returning Blue Angel pilots.
Sessions are performed by each Blue Angel team member, once with a G-suit, and once without a G-suit. A session is defined as, “strapping into the device securely, bringing the device to idle speed, the execution of the profile, followed by the exiting of the device safely” (Hollingsworth). Successful completion of a session includes performing a proper AGSM at the maximum on-set rate for the majority of time per each profile without experiencing G/A-LOC. The specific G-profiles can be found in CNATRA INSTRUCTION 6110.1A.
To reduce the time required to recover from straining against G-forces, the CFET outlines aerobic and anaerobic exercises focusing on core and lower body fundamentals, “…a combination of squat-type exercises, leg curls, leg extensions, and calf raises. These exercises should be performed at least twice per week… it is important to include neck/trapezius exercises in the weekly exercise routine… allow for 20-30 minutes of moderate aerobic training three times per week and not to exceed five times per week” (Hollingsworth).
While these exercises are effective in developing the core, lower extremities, and neck areas, the majority of the G-tolerance enhancement lies in the centrifuge regiment. Executing a conventional core and lower body workout improves little more than just the exercises within the program. It is unclear as to whether these workouts reflect causation, or simply correlation with regards to G-tolerance. The indicated workouts are not tailored to the needs of a fighter pilot, rather, they consist of generic exercises performed by fighter pilots in attempts to improve their AGSM.
Physical workouts should replicate the movements performed in the aircraft and directly enhance the ability of a pilot during flight. To truly measure whether or not the chosen exercises are improving the G-tolerance of pilots, it is necessary to measure maximum muscle tension before and after completion of GTIP, both with and without centrifuge training. Specific muscle contraction measurement refers to the specific muscle group that is being measured. Potential methods to accomplish this includes a mechanomyography (MMG), which measures lateral movement of a muscle as it moves towards or away from the direction of pull during contraction and relaxation (Avela). Research of this nature, aids in understanding whether there is a direct correlation between the exercises given to Blue Angels Pilots during GTIP, and their successes, or if it is entirely dependent upon the centrifuge training.
“Grind to Fly | About.” Mysite, www.grindtofly.com/about.
Hollingsworth, C. G-TOLERANCE IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM (GTIP). NATRA INSTRUCTION 6110.1A. Department of the Navy, 31 December 2012.
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