Spatial disorientation (SD) is among the most common factors
contributing to aviation accidents and incidents, but its true
prevalence is difficult to establish. This is because many
accidents where SD is cited as a likely factor are fatal, and
therefore its role cannot be known with any certainty, but also
because in the many instances of SD where an accident doesn't
result, it goes unreported.
This study provides a comprehensive explanation of the various
types of SD in the aviation environment, and suggest strategies for
managing the risk associated with SD events. This report provides
an informative overview of the three basic types of SD, and the
circumstances under which disorientation might be more likely.
These are of value to all pilots, and especially those who conduct
flights in instrument conditions or at night under visual flight
rules. Single-pilot operations, particularly where an autopilot is
not available, face additional risks and the need to identify and
manage SD events.
This report also encourages pilots who have experienced SD
episodes to share their experiences with their aviation colleagues,
either informally, or through magazines, journals and web-based
forums. This will serve to encourage a greater awareness of the
incidence of SD, and help reduce the stigma that some pilots might
associate with these events. As other studies suggest, SD is likely
to be encountered by all pilots during the course of a lifetime's
flying - whether professional or non-professional, experienced or
inexperienced. A more open approach to acknowledging and discussing
SD and its various causes will make a valuable contribution to a
better understanding of this common human factor.