G-LOC, or G-Induced Loss Of Consciousness, can occur when a pilot pulls such a tight turn that the blood drains from their head, making them pass out. In this recent de-classified footage, that’s exactly what happened to one pilot. Headed straight towards the ground at full afterburner, death seemed inevitable – until a new autopilot system pulled him out.

In the training flight video taken from the F-16's Heads Up Display, originally spotted by Aviation Week, you can hear the pilot’s labored breathing as he executes a sharp turn, experiencing more than eight times the weight of gravity upon his body. Around 21 seconds in, the sharp turn ends as the pilot loses consciousness, the fighter jet aimlessly drifting with its nose increasing pointed straight at the ground.

An F-16, for reference. Photo credit: D. Miller

The instructor can be heard calling out to the unconscious pilot, callsign Sully 2:

After only 22 sec., the F-16 was nose-down almost 50 deg. below the horizon and going supersonic. The shocked instructor called “2 recover!” as the student passed 12,320 ft. at 587 kt. Two seconds later, with the nose down in a 55-deg. dive, altitude at 10,800 ft. and speed passing 613 kt., the worried instructor again calls “2 recover!” In a little less than another 2 sec., as the now frantic instructor makes a third call for the student pilot to pull up, the Auto-GCAS executes a recovery maneuver at 8,760 ft. and 652 kt.

The pilot fell down to just 4,370 feet before the plane began flying normally again, with the jet screaming nearly 13,000 feet towards the ground in less than 20 seconds. Sully 2 can be heard re-gaining consciousness as the instructor cancels the training scenario and tries to get everyone above 12,000 feet.

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The automatic recovery system, known as Auto-GCAS, or Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, which saved the pilot’s life was first put on F-16s in late 2014. If the system thinks the jet is headed towards the ground it automatically induces a 5G turn and rolls the plane upright.

In this case, the system worked, and it saved the pilot’s life.