Methods to Minimize Spatial Disorientation


More can be done to prepare pilots for dealing with Spatial Disorientation (SD) rather than simply instructing them to ignore their sensations and to focus on the instruments. Due to the unreliability of vestibular cues and the many situations that can cause SD it is important to make the possibility of SD known to the pilot through the use of simple simulators or by being demonstrated in the air.

Training on the causes of disorientation, with emphasis on the conditions that are likely to induce it, can be very helpful. Many deceptions can be revealed through SD demonstrators, in which the pilot is exposed to certain motion or visual circumstances. The training is used to teach the avoidance of these conditions and to constantly monitor the aircraft state by checking instruments or scanning the view outside the window.

A pilot can be familiarized with the illusions because many of the SD situations are predictable. A pilot can then be exposed to them in the airplane or simulator so that correct recovery becomes automatic. This training can then be extended to require the pilot to recover level flight when disoriented. The pilot is directed to focus on the instruments, avoid alternating their attention between the view of the cockpit and the world outside, and to return to a straight and level flight.

Cockpit and Instrument Design

Because head movements are to be avoided, nonflight displays and controls, such as communication equipment, can be positioned to minimize the need for head movements and reduce the time required to look away from the primary flight instruments. The individual instruments are made easy to read, even at night and during occurrences of nystagmus, and are intergrated into a “T” arrangement directly in front of the pilot, or in flight displays, which provide all the geometric variables at a glance. Essential flight parameters such as the altitude, airspeed, artificial horizon and touchdown point, are presented in the head-up-display (HUD), which allows the pilot to view outside the window while still watching the flight instruments. The HUD has been a major achievement in avoiding many SD situations that occur due to unnecessary head movements and shifting frames of reference. Further advances in preventing SD include the development of virtual reality visor displays, 3D audio displays and vibrotactile displays.


Tsang, P. S., & Vidulich, M. A. (2003). Principles and practice of aviation psychology. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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