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Declassified footage shows the moment an unconscious F-16 pilot is saved by automatic Collision Avoidance System

Declassified video footage from the head-up-display of a U.S. Air Force Arizona Air National Guard F-16 records the dramatic moment when its unconscious pilot is saved from certain death by the aircraft’s Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System in 2016. (AviationWeek/YouTube)
March 14, 2017

A declassified United States Air Force video from 2016 shows the exact moment an F-16 pilot fell unconscious during a flight exercise and came just seconds away from death. The pilot was saved by an automatic piloting system that regained control of the aircraft just four thousand feet above the ground.

Check out the cockpit video paired with all the flight data in the clip below:

According to the video description, the pilot was flying with the Arizona Air National Guard. After attempting a high-speed turn and experiencing more than 9.1 G of force in the process, the pilot lost consciousness. He was suddenly a helpless passenger aboard a plummeting aircraft.

In the video, the instruments and flight data document the aircraft’s erratic behavior with the pilot no longer in control. The aircraft appears to jerk and tilt in multiple directions before suddenly nosediving towards the ground. In just a matter of seconds, the aircraft falls from 16,000 feet in the air to just over 4,400.

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Declassified video footage from the head-up-display of a U.S. Air Force Arizona Air National Guard F-16 records the dramatic moment when its unconscious pilot is saved from certain death by the aircraft’s Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System in 2016. (AviationWeek/YouTube)

The clip includes an instructor shouting multiple times at the pilot to attempt to recover the aircraft. With no response from the pilot and no inputs from the cockpit, the aircraft’s Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) kicked in.

The jet stabilized and regained an altitude of 12,000 feet before the pilot was back at the controls. The entire incident lasted just thirty seconds, but the short ordeal was certainly a matter of life or death for both the pilot and anyone else potentially on the ground.

Declassified video footage from the head-up-display of a U.S. Air Force Arizona Air National Guard F-16 records the dramatic moment when its unconscious pilot is saved from certain death by the aircraft’s Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System in 2016. (AviationWeek/YouTube)

This incident is considered to be the fourth save by the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) since it was first introduced to the F-16 fleet since 2014. The first aircraft to be saved by Auto-GCAS was an F-16 flying over Syria in 2015.

The Edwards AFB-based 416th Flight Test Sqdn is currently working on an Automatic Integrated Collision Avoidance System (Auto-ICAS) that combines an air collision avoidance system with the ground collision avoidance system.