Following more than five years of delays, the world’s most advanced centrifuge is now fully operational and Air Force fighter pilots will begin using it in October at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The $34.4-million centrifuge was dedicated during a ceremony on Thursday at the base, just eight weeks before it will start testing the limits of thousands of military pilots over the next three decades. This news organization first reported delays in construction of the centrifuge back in 2012 and at the time it was expected to be completed by September 2013.
“It has been a long time coming and that is because it is one of a kind and is really world class at this point,” said Gen. Mark Koeniger, commander of the 711th Human Performance Wing. “It gives capability to the Air Force in terms of training and research that we haven’t had before. Again, certainly worth the wait because of the capability it provides.”
With an egg-shaped capsule on the end of a 31-foot long spinning arm, the giant centrifuge will push Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots to learn how to endure gravity forces up to nine times a human’s body weight.
It has the capacity to go from zero to 15 times the force of gravity in one second and can make 45 rotations per minute.
“That sounds intense and it is,” Koeniger said. “It’s no wonder John Glenn called the centrifuge a ‘dreaded’ and ‘sadistic’ part of astronaut training.”
The centrifuge, four new research altitude chambers and a recently commissioned Navy disorientation research device – all within walking distance — are part of a $92 million array of projects authorities say will designate Wright-Patterson as the hub for research in aerospace physiology.
All three projects were built at Wright-Patt to consolidate aeromedical research for the Air Force and Navy in one place. The consolidation followed the 2005 base closure process, which moved operations to the Ohio base from San Antonio, Texas and Pensacola, Fla.
The Air Force estimates that each year 1,200 or more students, fighter pilots, air crew and others will ride the centrifuge inside the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. Another 400 Navy and Marine Corps aviators will test their limits to g-tolerance on a shared time schedule with the Air Force, according to the Navy.
Wright Patt’s new centrifuge replaces one at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The Air Force had been paying $1 million annually to lease the old centrifuge it previously owned in Texas.
By October, around 75 percent of centrifuge training will be moved from Brooks to Wright-Patt, said Col. Alden D Hilton, commander of the Air Force school of Aerospace Medicine.
The rider inside the capsule, or gondola, sits in an interchangeable cockpit, resembling an F-22 or F-35 or another plane. The three cockpits can be linked together to create a virtual battle space, Koeniger said.
The centrifuge and an array of other recent projects will make Wright-Patt the hub for research in aerospace physiology, authorities have said. Centrifuges are essential to learning how to deal with g-forces and that’s why in addition to pilots, flight surgeons and aerospace physiologists will use the centrifuge to train, Hilton said.
“From a research perspective, this is a wonderful tool for medical researcher to look at the effects of physiology and the g forces and how we can improve performance in the face of these very intrusive pressures,” Hilton said.
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