Centrifuge graduates 30,000th student
By Airman 1st Class Sondra M. Escutia , 49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 16, 2009
HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Holloman's Physiological Training Center reached a milestone Jan. 14 when they graduated their 30,000 student from centrifuge training.
The student, Maj. Raja Chari from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said he was surprised to be the 30,000 student, but feels lucky to have such an honor.
"I think it's a pretty good sign that the other 29,999 people that have gone through this course before me are doing good things," he said.
The PTC houses one of only two centrifuges in the Air Force, and pushes approximately 1,000 students through the training per year. It has been at Holloman since October 1988 and has seen its fair share of pilots amid its 20 year tenure.
"This is the most utilized centrifuge in the world," said Maj. Timothy Loomis, Aerospace Physiology Flight commander and course instructor. "It's not the oldest out there but we just hit 20 years so 30,000 is a nice milestone to celebrate the usage of this device."
The only other centrifuge in the Air Force is located at Brooks City Base, Texas. Although they do a small amount of aircrew training, the majority of its mission is research and flight equipment testing. Holloman, however, is the main aircrew training centrifuge in the Air Force.
"Every fighter pilot in the Air Force comes through here," said Capt. Michael Fleming, course instructor and officer in charge. "Our students range from 2nd lieutenants to three-star generals."
The centrifuge is essentially a capsule with an aircraft seat in it, explained Major Loomis. Inside it has rudder pedals and flight controls and it spins around on the end of a long arm. When in motion, the centripetal force is translated into G-forces, a measurement of an object's acceleration.
"When students are in a high-g turn in the aircraft, it pushes the pilot or the aircrew member down into the seat and pulls the blood away from their brain," he said. "If they can't keep enough blood and oxygen to their brain, they'll go unconscious and that is what we're trying to teach the students - how to combat those forces."
Normal G-force is 1 g, but a pilot doing a high-g turn in a fighter aircraft would experience a much larger G-force, and the centrifuge is a way for pilots to experience that feeling for the first time in a controlled environment. They first learn about the physiology of acceleration in a classroom and then get practical experience in the centrifuge, allowing them to develop proper techniques so when they are in the actual aircraft, they are able to stay conscious and keep their performance level high.
"I was a little nervous about the centrifuge, but the training they gave was great so I was well prepared for it," said Maj. Chari. "After flying fighters for 5 or 6 years on my own, it's good to have someone else [quality check] it and make sure I'm doing it right."
The former F-15E pilot said this was his third time attending the course. He was required to attend a refresher course before moving on to the F-15C.
"I think Holloman is doing a great job out here and myself being the 30,000 student here is proof of that," he said.
With more than 30,000 students graduated and 20 years of service, however, the centrifuge will soon be leaving Holloman in a permanent change of station.
Under the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure 2005, the centrifuges at both Holloman AFB and at Brooks City Base will consolidate their missions into one and will move to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Holloman's centrifuge is due to close in fiscal year 2011.
Until then, instructors continue to take pride in their job, the centrifuge and the unique mission it brings to the Physiological Training Center.
"This is an incredible duty to have," said Major Loomis. "We are truly holding pilots lives in our hands with the training that we do. It's something that sets us apart and something I'm proud of being able to do."