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‘Badass Pilot’: America’s Next Top (S)hero

Episode 4: Art Nalls talks about facing g-forces while in the air

As the air show season approaches, Art Nalls’ team must prepare their planes and refresh their skills. On this day, they want to fly the British Sea Harrier and the Czech L-39 to get some airtime under g-forces.

“If pilots lose their tolerance to G, they can black out in the sky,” Nalls says. G-tolerance is a reference to the ability of pilots to handle the gravitational forces that they face in the air. For example, a 5g maneuver puts the pilot under a stress equal to five times the earth’s gravity.

But the day is not cooperating with them. It’s raining, and there is a low cloud ceiling. Even the fuel truck that fills the planes has an issue: A small amount of fuel leaks out as the L-39 is being filled, and it must be cleaned up. At $1,500 per fill-up, it’s no cheap task to fuel up the L-39; the Harrier is even pricier, taking on 650 gallons worth $3,500 when it is filled.

Along for the day is Jenna Dolan, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. She is the first woman to fly a Harrier in the line of duty, and she’ll join the team for the season.

The bad weather breaks, but a crosswind remains, and Nalls decides to ground the sometimes-touchy Harrier. But the L-39 is good for a trip, and Dolan and Nalls take off in it.

“What it means to have Jenna on this team is huge to not only the air show audience, but to little girls who are looking for inspiration,” Nalls says. But that won’t matter if the two can’t adjust to the g-forces. It’s time for some barrel rolls and high-bank turns.

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