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Coping with Spatial Disorientation

in Human Factors

To prevent illusions and their potentially disastrous consequences, pilots can:

1. Understand the causes of these illusions and remain constantly alert for them. Take the opportunity to understand and then experience spatial disorientation illusions in a device such as a Barany chair, a Vertigon, or a Virtual Reality Spatial Disorientation Demonstrator.

2. Always obtain and understand preflight weather briefings.

3. Before flying in marginal visibility (less than 3 miles) or where a visible horizon is not evident such as flight over open water during the night, obtain training and maintain proficiency in airplane control by reference to instruments.

4. Do not continue flight into adverse weather conditions or into dusk or darkness unless proficient in the use of flight instruments. If intending to fly at night, maintain night-flight currency and proficiency. Include cross country and local operations at various airfields.

5. Ensure that when outside visual references are used, they are reliable, fixed points on the Earth’s surface.

6. Avoid sudden head movement, particularly during takeoffs, turns, and approaches to landing.

7. Be physically tuned for flight into reduced visibility. That is, ensure proper rest, adequate diet, and, if flying at night, allow for night adaptation. Remember that illness, medication, alcohol, fatigue, sleep loss, and mild hypoxia are likely to increase susceptibility to spatial disorientation.

8. Most importantly, become proficient in the use of flight instruments and rely upon them. Trust the instruments and disregard your sensory perceptions.

The sensations that lead to illusions during instrument flight conditions are normal perceptions experienced by pilots. These undesirable sensations cannot be completely prevented, but through training and awareness, pilots can ignore or suppress them by developing absolute reliance on the flight instruments. As pilots gain proficiency in instrument flying, they become less susceptible to these illusions and their effects.

 

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