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Is F-16 fighter too hot to handle?

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The F-16 jet, designed as a frontline fighter for high-speed dogfights -- may be so agile that pilot blackouts in tight turns have been linked to four fatal crashes in recent years, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

The F-16 is the mainstay single-engine fighter of the United States and several NATO air forces. Its mission requires that it make tight turns at high speed, which is accomplished by electronic controls.

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According to U.S. Air Force officials quoted in Sunday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the F-16 is capable of turning so tightly that increased gravitational forces -- or 'G-force' -- drains the blood from the pilot's brain, causing him to black out.

The F-16's electronic controls can create G-forces that 'can totally incapacitate the pilot,' said Gen. Jerome F. O'Malley, chief of the Tactical Air Command, the Air Force's fighter command. 'You can apply G-forces instantaneously in an F-16.'

Most pilots can stand nine G's -- nine times the force of gravity - but not much more for very long.

'If you pull the pole in the F-16 and say 'I want 12 G's now,' it gives it to you,' said Col. Edsel DeVille of TAC headquarters at Langley, Va.

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A Tactical Air Command publication recently reported that 'several F-16 pilots' killed in crashes were the apparent 'victims of their own right hands,' which rest on the control stick, the Star-Telegram said.

Statistically, the Air Force suspects 'G-induced loss of consciousness,' or GLC, in nine fatal crashes in recent years, four of them involving the F-16, the report said.

The Air Force has placed high priority on curing the problem through aircraft modification and special pilot training, the report said.

Among steps the Air Force is taking to combat the problem is a new 'G-suit,' a suit that inflates to counter increases in G-forces. The current model inflates in six seconds, and the Air Force would like to reduce that to two seconds.

The Air Force also has discussed increasing centrifuge training to simulate G-forces on the ground, and emphasizing special breathing techniques to combat blackout.

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