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Sci-Tech

See the harrowing moment when a fighter jet saves its unconscious pilot

A pilot passes out at the controls of a plane, but a smart guidance system saves the day by avoiding a crash.

A riveting US Air Force video lets you ride along on a hair-raising real-life flight where technology averts a near disaster. A student pilot at the controls of a fighter jet lost consciousness and the plane nosedived, only to be saved by an automated piloting system. The footage comes from a heads-up display in an Arizona Air National Guard F-16.

Aviation Week posted the newly declassified video on YouTube on Tuesday. The training flight took place in May.

The software responsible for saving the pilot's life is called the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS). Pioneered by NASA, it detects when a plane is close to the ground, calculates the time-to-impact and then starts an avoidance maneuver to prevent a crash.

"Extensive flight-testing at NASA Armstrong demonstrated that advanced computing technology could significantly reduce the number of accidents attributed to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), a leading cause of fatalities in both civil and military aviation that results in roughly 100 deaths each year in the United States alone," NASA said in 2014 when the tech was first being integrated into the Air Force's F-16 fleet.

The pilot recovered consciousness and retook control of the plane after the close shave. You could say the pilot was lucky, but the aviator can thank the years of work that went into the Auto-GCAS system for saving a life that day.