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LAB RATS: FIT TO FLY
The Lab Rats are Mike Leahy and Zeron Gibson, two men on a mission to push themselves to the limit, for the sake of science (and the sadistic pleasure of the great British viewing public). With fun firmly in mind, each programme is driven by the banter and lunacy of our two heroes. But behind it all lies rigorous research and solid – sometimes even groundbreaking – science. You definitely haven’t seen anything quite like this before…
In this episode our Lab Rats explore the concept of G-force by subjecting their bodies to crushingly violent forces. Whoever endures the most will receive the ultimate Boy’s Own thrill ride: a once-in-a-lifetime flight in a US Airforce F-16 fighter jet.
BEHIND THE SCENES
If I’d been able to bring my original ideas to the screen, neither of our Lab Rats would have gone anywhere near a plane. But apparently if someone is strapped into a car and driven into a wall at 80 miles per hour, they normally die. Even with airbags. And not even the James Bond stunt team could find a way around that particular inconvenient truth. I know this because I asked them. As such, our investigation into G-force took to the skies.
The way I saw it, this programme had to be cool. The RAF had offered us the use of their pilot-training centrifuge in Farnborough. But they viewed the centrifuge as the Grand Finale to our proceedings whereas I saw it merely as a staging post. On top of that, it soon became clear that the Great British curse of Health & Safety meant they could only subject ‘citizens’ to half the force levels of trainee pilots. It was all feeling rather anti-climactic. So we looked elsewhere.
The levels of genuine goodwill and assistance that was showered upon us by the US Airforce cannot be overstated. It took a lot of persistent negotiating to open the door, but once we were in, they couldn’t do enough to help. Holloman Air Force base agreed to let us use their centrifuge. After more to-ing and fro-ing they agreed to take the Lab Rats through standard pilot training procedures. That is not to say that they weren’t Health and Safety conscious. For all of us it was the highest priority. But they agreed to judge Mike and Zeron on an individual basis, and to push them up to the levels that they were able to withstand. If that meant giving them the full whack, so be it…
In the course of researching and filming this programme, the subject of ‘G-induced Loss of Consciousness’ (G-LOC) had come up continually. As extreme forces push down through your body, all the blood heads south, and if you can’t control it via the ‘anti-G straining manoeuvre’, you black out. If this happens while you’re flying a plane, it’s game over. But in the confines of a centrifuge, it’s relatively safe. Even so, it was something that nobody wanted our Lab Rats to experience.
Mike truly was a “G-Monster”. He successfully completed the exact profile that a fighter jet pilot has to endure. What’s more, he apparently handled it better than many would-be pilots. The bar for Zeron had been set extraordinarily high. As it turned out, too high.
What the programme wasn’t able to show is that Zeron was so determined to hold his own against Mike, he had a second crack at it. And blacked out a second time. He’d have kept going forever if we’d let him. But, for the sake of my Health and his Safety, we called it a day.
The Pentagon had agreed to give us access to a fighter jet. It’s not every day you can say that. The fighter jet they had agreed to give us was an F4-Phantom. Nice, but a bit of a museum piece. Still, it was several steps up from the UK option and, in my quest for cool, New Mexico was feeling a lot stronger than Farnborough.
As we headed for the States I was still taking every opportunity to push my luck and ask for something “better”, but it seemed the old English charm had found its limit.
And then, two days before we were due to film the final sequence, I got the phone call: “I can get you an F-16”.
Producer/ Director/ Edit Producer: Nic Guttridge
Camera: Luke Finn
Series Producer: Steve Evanson
Production company: BBC Scotland
First broadcast: April 2004 at 11.30pm