The Air Force's F-16 fighter jets produce 29,000 pounds of thrust and can fly at twice the speed of sound. Maj. Jason Markzon is a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, called the Thunderbirds. When they performed in New York earlier this year, Rob Verger got a chance to take a ride with him. He found out why fighter pilots must stay in top physical condition and undergo years of training.
We cruised to the Garden State, and Flack made a 90-degree turn, then a brutal 180-degree turn—a hard long pull and a steep bank angle. I experienced 6.2 Gs during the maneuver. (Astronauts typically endure three or four during liftoff, and an F-16 and its pilot can handle nine.) The sudden moves were part of our G-exercise, a standard practice before any flight that might hit the crew with high Gs to ensure that the plane, and anyone aboard, can take the stress. I did not pass.
It’s hard to describe the frightening sensation of pulling heavy Gs. A crushing feeling pushes you back into your seat. You experience difficulty breathing. The force pushes blood away from your eyes and brain, potentially giving you tunnel vision. It’s not unusual for rookies to feel pummeled by the Gs—some even lose consciousness—and shaken to the point of puking from air sickness.
I didn’t vomit. Not then, anyway.