NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
When people think of pilots, the first things that may come to mind are movies like Top Gun and Black Hawk Down. Cool theme music playing in the background while pilots slowly walk up to their intimidating aircraft.
To be fair, all of those things are true - except for the music, but what’s untold is the intense physical stress pilots’ bodies endure once they leave the ground.
Pilots experience anywhere up to 9 Gs of force while executing aerial maneuvers. At 9 Gs, a 200-pound pilot, with gear that typically weighs 30 pounds, experiences over 2,000 pounds of force on their body.
The Air Force has recently recognized its pilots as “human weapons systems,” thus implementing a program that brought in contracted athletic trainers, strength coaches and massage therapists from LMR Technical Group to help relieve some of the symptoms pilots experience from flying.
“The idea behind the program is the preventive maintenance,” said Maj. Clayton “Red Beard” Cruichshank, F-15C pilot assigned to the 433rd Weapons School. “Rather than waiting until someone has a back or neck problem, we’re already training to be stronger before problems occur, so were better able to handle the stresses.”
The Human Weapons System Program was brought to Nellis and across all of Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces and United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa to address the back and neck pain issues pilots were having from pulling high G-forces.
“This program can help pilots fly the missions they’re supposed to for a longer periods of time during their career without being injured or grounded,” said Cruichshank. “We love flying and we want to do it for as long as possible”
Due to a number of fighter pilots leaving the Air Force on account of issues pilots were having from G-forces they were experiencing in flight, retired Gen. David Goldfein, the 21st chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, introduced this program to increase fighter pilot retention.
Retention is critical because of the massive investment of resources it takes to train a combat-ready pilot and because the Air Force needs its experienced pilots to take on advanced leadership and management roles. The Air Force is investing in its future by investing in its pilots.
“A lot of the pain from flying is caused by the positions that we sit in. It leads to the body compensating and building muscle in places that aren’t natural for the human body,” said Capt. Brad Sullivan, F-15E pilot assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron. “Since I have been regularly seeing my trainer, I have had little to no pain over the last three months.”
Trainers administer preventive care based on movement assessments administered to pilots.
“When pilots come back and tell me that their pain level is reducing and their mobility is improving, that is what is most rewarding to me,” said Alia Ware, contracted athletic trainer from LMR Technical Group. “Being able to help the people who serve our country is more than I could ever ask for.