A Letter to Centrifuge Man

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Dear Man Who Talks My Nephew Through the Centrifuge Training So That He Can Be a Marine Corps Fighter Pilot:

I can’t see you, but I can hear you as I watch the Facebook video of my nephew sitting in his flight suit, his head against the headrest, joystick in his right hand. Your calm voice soothes me as you coach Evan through the steps of the training.

Evan has explained that the centrifuge consists of a single flight seat enclosed in a round gondola. The gondola is mounted to an arm that rotates at a high rate of speed to produce the effects of acceleration. It is capable of simulating a g-force of up to 15 g’s at an onset rate of 6 g’s per second. While a roller coaster might reach two, maybe three g’s, at some point, Evan will reach a g-force of 7.5.

Whenever you’re ready, you tell him. Stay nice and relaxed. Squeeze your butt.

 Three…two…one…engage.

 The ride begins.

Tighten that butt. Good job!

 The ride ends.

You went to 4.8 g’s. How much of your eyesight did you lose?

You ask this as casually as you might ask Evan much money he lost in the latest March Madness pool. Except we’re talking about eyesight here. He will soon fly a ­­­­thirty million dollar fighter jet, and he’ll lose his eyesight?

By his own estimation, Evan loses about 50%.

Did it come back right away? Did it tunnel in?

 Evan replies that his eyesight grayed out. It came back right away. You ask him these questions with each progression through the g-forces of the exercise.

The goal is to maintain consciousness, Evan explains to me. Astounding, when you stop and think about it. He’ll be piloting a state-of-the-art fighter jet loaded with weapons of mass destruction and he loses his eyesight. He might black out.

But, my nephew assures me, they only reach maximum g-force during certain maneuvers, and only for a short period of time. He’ll develop a tolerance for it, and after all, that’s what the training is for.

You went to 4.8 g’s last time, so let’s go to 5.5 on the next ride, you, with your inspiring voice, tell Evan.

Rapid onset, you say.

Zero to six g’s in one second? Yeah, I think. Sounds like rapid onset to me.

Drop the shoulders, you say. Terminate, terminate, terminate, you tell him when you want him to decelerate, and he releases his grip on the joystick.

 Stay tight on the way down.

 You say this without exclamation points in your voice, with a calm assurance, as though talking a tightrope walker across Niagara Falls. Easy does it. Terminate, terminate, terminate. Come to Daddy.

OK, you say. 6.5. Really concentrate on relaxing.

Just relax. Practice the ab push. We’ll rest up for three, then go for 7.5.

 All butt, all day. Smile. I’m having a GOOD time.

 You’re a good-natured kidder, Centrifuge Man. Evan is about to be spun like a frog in a blender without the blades, yet you have him flashing his thousand-watt smile.

 How about your eyesight? you ask him.

It always grays out, Evan tells you, with equal calm.

How did you get it back?

 I tightened my butt, Evan tells you.

The butt squeeze, you say, as though referring to an old friend. It’s an excellent thing to do.

 You’re so darned companionable. I can picture the whole gang downing a few brewskis after a hard day in the centrifuge. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?

Later my sister and I agree. With your confident voice in our headset, we could land a jumbo jet on the head of a pin in a Category 5 hurricane. Or at least a zippy fighter jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier in rough seas. Which is the ultimate goal here, unless I’m missing something.

We could do anything if only we had you to coach us through it.

Have you considered a career as a hostage negotiator? This is just a bump in the road, you tell a gun-toting paranoid maniac. This time, we’re going to turn your life around. Remember to breathe. We’ll start slow and then move up.

Perhaps something at the United Nations?

Or maybe, Centrifuge Man, you were born for greater things. Cut through all that bureaucracy and simulcast your voice direct to the many battlegrounds on our planet:

You may put your weapons down now. Terminate, terminate, terminate. How does this feel? Breathe normally. Relax your upper body.

 You have achieved world peace. Work hard for me. Fifteen more seconds. You’re looking good. Now gimme all you got. Let’s go for longer this time . . .

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