Commentary Search

Riding a roller coaster with camera in hand

T-6 inflight

A Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, T-6A Texan II flying over Oklahoma, May 24, 2018. The photo was taken by Airman 1st Class Zachary Heal during his first aerial-photography flight in the initial training aircraft for student pilots at Vance. (U.S Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Zachary Heal)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – “I doubt that plane will make me throw up. I have a strong stomach.”

That’s what I said directly before flying in a T-6A Texan II. If I had a dollar for every time I was wrong in my life, well now I’d have another dollar.

For the first time in my Air Force career as a photojournalist, I was riding shotgun in a T-6 to take photos of another T-6 flying nearby. Though I was warned about the thrust-to-turn ratio of a T-6, I had completely underestimated the impact gravitational forces (G’s) would have on my body.

A T-6 pulls on average 4 G’s per flight, and the aircraft can pull up to 7 G’s.

For the first half of the flight, I was in awe seeing what the pilots saw every day at “the office.” We were cruising above the clouds and I was taking photos of the T-6 next to us. We started doing loops and rolls and though I was having the time of my life, I finally saw the difficult part of flying.

We performed maneuvers I had only experienced on roller coasters -- though this was much more intense. I struggled trying to take photos through the canopy while we were inverted and pulling several G’s.

It was difficult to move or breathe. My whole body felt heavier. I could barely lift the camera to try to take a photo. On top of that, due to the negative G-forces pulling the blood out of my brain, I spent every loop, roll and quick turn with clenched leg muscles trying to push the blood back into my brain.

The physical stress pilots go through on a daily basis is not to be underestimated.

However, this is not the only thing I underestimated. I also overlooked how important Aerospace and Operational Physiology training is to the functioning of a pilot’s body during flight.

While my camera sat on my lap and my face was buried in an air sickness bag, 1st Lt. Lisa Ventura with the 8th Flying Training Squadron, was completely fine in the front seat of the aircraft. I couldn’t believe she didn’t even feel the slightest bit queasy. So what makes a pilot’s stomach so much stronger than mine?

The answer is simple: the specialists in Aerospace and Operational Physiology.

Aerospace and Operational Physiology helps many pilots get through air sickness with different techniques they can try in-flight, as well as training them with special equipment to get their bodies used to the stress of flying.

Pilots have the impressive ability to handle intense physical stress for extended periods of time on a daily basis. That inner strength is developed with the support of a number of dedicated experts.

Now what did they say to do with this bag?