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G-Force: The Excitement of Acceleration
In the cockpit, both pilots and passengers experience a sensation known as g-forces. Read on to learn more about how gravity creates fun flights.
G-force: A measurement of acceleration felt as weight. Changes in velocity—speeding up, slowing down, or shifting direction—make pilots feel as if they’re being pressed down, thrown up, and tossed to the side. As a unit, 1 g is equivalent to the acceleration of gravity (about 32 f/s2). We experience 1 g constantly, as the floor pushes upward to prevent our bodies from accelerating toward the earth.
2.9 g: The typical g-force exerted by a sneeze. Another common example of g-force: someone slapping you on the back to congratulate you on a solid sneeze (4.1 g).
Microgravity: A term for the weightless environment experienced by astronauts. It’s not quite accurate to call it “zero g,” because even in space, gravity still causes astronauts to slowly accelerate towards Earth.
Vertical Force: The head-to-toe sensation of a g-force felt vertically along the body, as opposed to side to side or front to back. This is the most difficult g-force to deal with, because blood might rush to the brain, knocking it unconscious. For this reason, fighter pilots wear special anti-g suits, which have constrictive air bladders that keep blood from leaving the upper body and hitting the eject button.
The Fastest Man on Earth: Air Force physician John Stapp, according to Time magazine. In an effort to improve cockpit safety, Stapp built a rocket-powered sled to test how much g-force the human body could withstand. Despite losing dental fillings and breaking many bones, he experienced 46.2 g—far exceeding the 18 g thought to be the limit for pilots.