Last year, I wrote an article in tribute to my friend, Lieutenant David “Jinxx” Mitchell, whose F-16 crashed after he lost consciousness during high-G maneuvering. It’s a phenomenon that has plagued high-G fighters: if the pilot becomes incapacitated, there’s nothing to stop the aircraft from crashing into the ground. Automated Ground Collision Avoidance Software (Auto GCAS or AGCAS) is the answer to that problem.
Our friends at the Air Force Research Lab are working to continue to implement the software into America’s fighter fleet. It is already fielded in the Block 40/42 and 50/52 F-16C, but what exactly is it?
In short, it’s flight control logic that uses a Digital Terrain Elevation Database to calculate the aircraft’s relative position above the ground. If it senses that the aircraft is on a collision course with the ground that is outside of normal parameters (like strafing or flying a low level), it automatically commands the aircraft to roll wings level and executive a 5-G pull to recover.
There are dozens of cases where Auto GCAS would’ve saved the pilot’s life. From G-Induced Loss Of Consciousness (G-LOC), to cockpit decompression and hypoxia, to spatial disorientation, the system works and it has already saved lives.
But it doesn’t stop there. Auto GCAS software also has a Pilot Activated Recovery System (PARS). With no canopy bow and the higher seating position, Spatial Disorientation is a real threat in the F-16. I’ve succumbed to this. I’ve had friends that have been affected by this – one of whom ejected just seconds before hitting the water at night on NVGs. It’s just as dangerous as GLOC, but with PARS, a pilot that recognizes that his gyros are tumbling and he’s lost orientation with the outside world can use the system to recover the aircraft.
This is something the fighter communities have been requesting for a long time. It’s good to see that it’s finally seeing operational capability. I hope that more aircraft, like the Hornet and older Block 30 F-16s, will see its integration as well. Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) is a threat no one likes to talk about, but Auto GCAS helps.
It might have saved JINXX.
(Featured photo by Jonathan Derden)