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Sensory Systems for Orientation: Vision Under Dim and Bright Illumination

by Flight Learnings

in Human Factors

Under conditions of dim illumination, aeronautical charts and aircraft instruments can become unreadable unless adequate flight deck lighting is available. In darkness, vision becomes more sensitive to light. This process is called dark adaptation.  Although exposure to total darkness for at least 30 minutes is required for complete dark adaptation, a pilot can achieve a moderate degree of dark adaptation within 20 minutes under dim red flight deck lighting.

Red light distorts colors (filters the red spectrum), especially on aeronautical charts, and makes it very difficult for the eyes to focus on objects inside the aircraft. Pilots should use it only where optimum outside night vision capability is necessary. White flight deck lighting (dim lighting) should be available when needed for map and instrument reading, especially under IMC conditions.

Since any degree of dark adaptation is lost within a few seconds of viewing a bright light, pilots should close one eye when using a light to preserve some degree of night vision.  During night flights in the vicinity of lightning, flight deck lights should be turned up to help prevent loss of night vision due to the bright fl ashes. Dark adaptation is also impaired by exposure to cabin pressure altitudes above 5,000 feet, carbon monoxide inhaled through smoking, deficiency of Vitamin A in the diet, and by prolonged exposure to bright sunlight.

During flight in visual meteorological conditions (VMC), the eyes are the major orientation source and usually provide accurate and reliable information. Visual cues usually prevail over false sensations from other sensory systems.  When these visual cues are taken away, as they are in IMC, false sensations can cause the pilot to quickly become disoriented.

An effective way to counter these false sensations is to recognize the problem, disregard the false sensations, rely on the flight instruments, and use the eyes to determine the aircraft attitude. The pilot must have an understanding of the problem and the skill to control the aircraft using only instrument indications.

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