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Flying in a fighter jet is arguably one of the most exciting things you could do in the world. Read about what it’s really like in this first-hand account.
Have you ever thought about being a fighter pilot or at least what it would be like to fly in a fighter jet? As we’re all aviation enthusiasts here, I would guess just about every single one of us has. Like most people out there, I haven’t actually had the chance to myself, but one of our avid readers recently got to fly in a Northrop T-38 Talon and is kind enough to share his experience in this post. So what’s it really like to fly in a fighter jet?
Flying in a fighter jet is an experience like no other. The speed, acceleration, forces, and maneuvers the jet can make. It’s tough to put into words. It’s exciting, scary, thrilling, violent, and more. You need to concentrate on staying conscious under high Gs. It really is a unique experience.
This is one of those topics that are more subjective than it is objective and requires a personal opinion to really write about it. It’s hard to describe in words, but we’ll do the best that we can to immerse you in what it’s really like to experience. We’ll talk about what it’s like in general, what high Gs feel like, the training required just to ride in one, and more.
As I mentioned above, the information in this article comes first-hand from one of our readers who got the chance to fly in a fighter jet earlier this month. So you don’t have to worry about anything in this post is hypothetical or assumed, this is really what it’s like to fly in a fighter jet! Without further ado, let’s get right into one of the most exciting topics on SkyTough.
What’s it Like to Fly in a Fighter Jet?
Since very few people actually get the chance to fly in a fighter jet, we were excited to hear about one of our readers getting the opportunity to earlier this month and worked with him to recount his experience in this article. While he’s choosing to remain anonymous, this reader is a civilian employee at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and recently got the chance to go up in a T-38 Talon with the 49th Fighter Training Squadron.
The T-38 Talon is (and has been for many years) the fighter jet trainer of choice for the US military. It is a twin-jet supersonic fighter trainer produced by Northrop between 1961 and 1972. That’s right, the T-38s still being used today to train fighter pilots were all produced 50-60 years ago, but that goes to show just how incredible this aircraft is. It can reach speeds of over 850+ mph and heights of over 50,000 feet.
I could go on and on about the T-38 and what it can do, but let’s leave that for another article. I just wanted to give you an idea of what the jet can really do. But what’s it like to actually fly in one?
As someone who had never flown in anything other than single-engine aircraft and commercial airliners, our reader had no idea what to expect when getting into the T-38. The best way that he could describe it was by saying it was unlike anything else he’s ever felt. It’s fast. It’s stomach-turning. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s violent. Think of the biggest and fastest roller coaster you’ve ever been on and multiply that feeling by ten.
During his flight in the T-38, he of course sat in the back seat with an Instructor Pilot flying from the front. There was another T-38 flying with them with a second Instructor Pilot and a Student Pilot at the controls. The actual point of the flight was for training purposes, and our friend was just along for the ride. After a few mishaps with poor weather, the two planes were cleared to practice dogfighting via air-to-air combat.
Up until that point, he said even just cruising along in the fighter jet is different than anything else. He was strapped into an ejection seat that would shoot him up into the sky just by pulling the right cable. You have a constant stream of fresh oxygen running into your mask to help you breathe. The canopy offers 360-degree views of the world around you. And the T-38 is actually pretty small so you can really feel every little movement the plane makes.
But once the dogfighting began, it was on a whole new level.
He and his pilot started off by being the aggressor, chasing the other plane and trying to shoot it down (with simulated ammunition of course). The jet can go from cruising to high-speed, high-G turns and acceleration in an instant, and the fight was on. Chasing the other plane through the air required tight turns, near-vertical climbs and drops, and everything in between. You can’t tell when you’re right-side up, upside down, or anything. It’s all just a blur.
After “shooting down” the other plane, roles were reversed and they were trying to get away. Evading another plane was arguably even more exciting than chasing since the pilot does everything they can to stay out of the other’s line of sight. This included a near-vertical straight drop towards the ground, shimmying the wings back and forth, and hard turns in all directions.
Other than the high-Gs (which will talk about shortly), the craziest thing was watching the controls. The backseat has the same controls as the front seat just in case the backseat pilot ever has to fly the plane. That means you can see the controls moving based on what the pilot is doing. Seeing the throttle lever, control stick, and rudder pedals move while also watching the pilot constantly looking around the canopy for the other plane was absolutely mesmerizing.
But what about those Gs we talked about?
What Does it Feel Like to Experience High Gs?
Without a doubt, the wildest part of flying in a fighter jet is the G-force that you feel under hard acceleration, tight turns, hard climbs, and more. G-forces, commonly shortened as Gs, is how many times the normal force of gravity you experience while flying. In short, if you weigh 180 pounds and experience 5 Gs, your body will feel like it weighs 900 pounds.
So what’s it like to experience Gs?
During his flight, our reader said that the pilot told him that they pulled 6.0 Gs at most, with a few high-speed turns pulling about 5.5 Gs during the dogfight. When this happens, you’re pressed back into your seat and can almost feel the blood leaving your head. This is because the blood will be forced down to the lower part of your body just due to the increased forces of gravity.
This is why excessive Gs can cause blurred vision and G-induced Loss of Consciousness (GLOC). To combat this, pilots (and passengers) must wear a G-suit while flying a fighter jet. This suit is worn on your lower body and is designed to automatically inflate under high-G conditions. By inflating around your legs and stomach, it helps force the blood back upwards towards the brain to help you remain conscious.
While pulling these Gs, our friend said the inflation of the G-suit is one of the weirdest feelings in the world, especially combined with the fact that he was forced back into his seat as if he weighed about 1,100 pounds (185 pounds x 6 Gs). The only thing he could do was mirror the pilot’s breathing pattern and flex his lower body to help push blood toward the head. He did experience tunnel vision, but was at least able to remain conscious the whole time!
After experiencing what it’s like to pull upwards of 6 Gs, he gained a new respect for fighter pilots that have to experience that on a regular basis, and even much higher forces. Pilots of more advanced aircraft like the F-16 Falcon, for example, can pull upwards of 9 Gs or more while still accelerating. Our friend said he can’t even imagine what that would be like!
Can Fighter Jets Go Upside Down?
One thing that people might not know about fighter jets is that they can do things that don’t even make sense when you think about general aviation aircraft. Our reader, for example, works on the base and sees these T-38s fly every single day, and he had no idea what they were actually capable of. He especially didn’t know that they could fly upside down, and that’s common for just about any fighter jet that’s used today.
During the dogfighting training, he said that the planes did maneuvers, twists, and turns that he had no idea they could handle. The highest Gs were felt under the hard, high-speed turns, during which the plane is much more upside down than right-side up. But what he found most interesting is that when you’re in the air and you’re doing these things, you actually can’t really tell which way is up and which way is down.
Due to all the different forces around you, the endless sky in all directions, and the fact that the only thing you’re really concentrating on as a novice is breathing and staying conscious, he had no idea when they were upside down, flying normal, going vertical, or anything. It really is that crazy to fly in a fighter jet!
How Do You Become a Fighter Pilot?
If you’re anything like me when I was much younger, or our friend after his experience, the idea of being a fighter pilot is one of the most exciting things possible. Just imagine being able to fly these planes for a living and getting paid to do it. Even after all these years, he said that his pilot had the biggest smile on his face when they landed.
So if that sounds like something you might want to consider doing for a living, then you’re in luck. We have the top-ranked complete guide to becoming a fighter on the web that you can check out here. If you decide to take that route, we appreciate your service and wish you the best. And if you ever get the chance to fly in a fighter jet, don’t pass it up! I know I won’t!