'Kraken' Is the U.S. Navy's Monster Motion-Based Research Simulator

If Star Tours at Disneyland made you sick, don't even lay eyes on Kraken. 

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One of the features most elaborate motion-based simulators lack are the sustained gravitational forces that can have severe effects on a vehicle's crew. That is not the case for the Navy's GL-6000 disorientation research device, better known as "The Kraken." The $19 million monster of a simulator is the centerpiece of the Captain Ashton Graybiel Acceleration Research Facility at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio that opened in June 2016. 

The system weighs a quarter of a million pounds, leverages 4,500 horsepower, and provides simultaneous motion on six axes. In other words, it gives its occupants one hell of a ride. 

The goal of this engineering marvel is to allow researchers to evaluate human factors like operational effectiveness, performance, and safety in various moving vehicles as accurately as possible without actually putting anyone (or anything) in danger. And the Kraken is not just about flight, although it can accurately reproduce rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft of virtually all types. It can also simulate the motion dynamics of submarines, boats, and land vehicles. 

Its cockpit, or "gondola," is totally reconfigurable to mimic whatever type of vehicle needs to be simulated. This rapid adaptability drastically saves in terms of cost and the time needed to execute disparate test and research programs. 

"While we recognize the tremendous challenges overcome and the feats of engineering and cunning required to create the marvel that is the Kraken, we also acknowledge that it is the natural realization of Capt. Graybiel's vision," Navy captain and commanding officer of the new facility Rees Lee said at its opening last year. "For the first time in the history of aerospace medicine, fully realistic motion simulations can be created which allow the exhaustive research necessary for a comprehensive understanding of spatial disorientation and other motion and acceleration-based phenomenon"

Research done on Kraken, and new solutions that come from that research, should result in fewer motion-related vehicle mishaps out in the field. As a result, the incredibly complex simulator and lab will likely save lives—and some very expensive vehicles, too.  

The tragedy of controlled flight into terrain in particular—a problem that has plagued military aircrews for the majority of man's history in the air—is one area that the Pentagon has begun to make large strides in curtailing in recent years. The F-16, and soon other fighters and military aircraft, are being fitted with automatic ground collision avoidance systems (Auto-GCAS) that automatically recover the aircraft from an imminent flight into terrain, thus saving a disoriented or unconscious pilot from certain death. Similar systems could be adapted to keep less advanced low-flying aircraft from flying into mountains and other obstacles in poor visibility or at night. 

While Auto-GCAS is one solution for a narrow but very formidable set of issues, Kraken aims to take on a much wider set of problems, including examining the causes of disorientation and other medical and human-factors science related to the phenomena. 

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An impressive digital rendering of the mighty Kraken.

The name of the new center that houses Kraken is a tribute to Captain Ashton Graybiel, a Navy scientist and medical doctor who made groundbreaking advances in acceleration research and its physiological effects during the 1950s and 1960s, then continued making new discoveries all the way through the 1980s. His work included game-changing studies of disorientation, weightlessness, human balance and the body's ability to cope with heavy acceleration. Graybiel's data, reports and research instruments were absolutely essential when it came to NASA's success during the space race. 

Graybiel was also a renowned cardiologist whose published works changed the field dramatically from the 1940s on. Him and his team established their original biomedical research lab at the Navy School Of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, Florida in the 1950s. By 1970 the lab had grown immensely, and was rebranded independently as the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory (NAMRL).

So, yeah, if anyone deserves a facility like this one named after them, it's Captain Graybiel.

Captain Lee stated the following during the facility's grand opening last year:

"In October 2010, the Navy moved its aeromedical research arm from Pensacola to Wright-Patterson as part of the Base Realignment and Closure initiative, it brought together Air Force and Navy scientists with long histories of ground-breaking and innovative aeromedical research to work side-by-side, establishing the potential to create the world's most advanced and capable aeromedical research center in the world. Over the last six years we have been working to realize that potential. Today, with the activation of the Kraken Disorientation Research Device, and the establishment of the Captain Ashton Graybiel Acceleration Research Facility, we take another giant step to realizing that potential."  

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com