A new centrifuge will help Royal Navy pilots train to fly the F-35 Lightning 2 jets that will operate from aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
The £44 million state-of-the-art High-G training and test facility was officially opened at RAF Cranwell by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.
It is already being used by fast jet pilots in the Royal Navy and RAF to replicate flight in aircraft such as the Hawk, Typhoon and new F-35 Lightning, replacing equipment that was more than 60 years old.
Not only does the centrifuge put pilots through the stresses and strains of up to 9G, or nine times the normal gravitational pull of the Earth, but trainees are also able to use a mock-up of each cockpit to help them ‘fly’, practising realistic manoeuvres as in a flight simulator under the most testing of circumstances.
The centrifuge can accelerate up to 9G in one second, and rotate up to 34 times a minute.
ACM Sir Stephen said: “I am delighted to see our new High-G Training Facility opened and to be able to mark this step-change in how we train our pilots.
“By exposing our Typhoon, Lightning and Hawk pilots to High-G forces in a tailor-made and completely controlled environment, we are significantly enhancing safety in the air and making a major contribution to our operational effectiveness.”
Because the cockpit element in the centrifuge’s gondola, at the end of a 7.5m arm, can be swapped between the three fast jets, pilots can conduct a plethora of training scenarios from air-to-air combat to dealing with inbound missile threats.
The device will also be used to trial and test new equipment to be used on fast jet aircraft and by the pilot, allowing testing to be completed in a benign, controlled environment before being trialled in live flight.
Director Air Support at DE&S Richard Murray said: “This new and exciting facility is replacing the High-G trainer until recently used by Defence; that dates from the 1950s and no longer matches the performance of the modern fast jet aircraft such as the F-35 and Typhoon.
“The centrifuge is capable of accelerating up to 9G in just one second, but rather than just sitting in it, the replica, flyable cockpit delivers realistic and immersive training, helping to simulate real-life missions while teaching pilots to deal with acceleration and High G-forces.”
The new facility will be used by fast jet pilots going through the UK Military Flying Training System and into their flying careers, while established pilots will also climb aboard for refresher training at least every five years.
The RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine is using the facility to train aircrew to recognise the effects of G-force, develop awareness of it and learn the physical techniques needed to counter the effects on their bodies during combat missions.
It is expected that up to 300 aircrew will receive training on the centrifuge each year.
The 39-tonne centrifuge, built by Thales UK, has seen the company team up with world-leading centrifuge specialists AMST from Austria to design and build the equipment.
Thales has been training RAF aircrew since the 1930s providing over 300 complex simulators for 60 different platforms.
The first students stepped into the gondola for training in December last year.
Images show ACM Sir Stephen Hillier stepping into the centrifuge’s gondola and the ‘view’ from the gondola cockpit. Also shown is the centrifuge at rest and in motion. Pictures from the MOD and Thales.