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An overview of spatial disorientation as a factor in aviation accidents and incidents

Summary

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.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Author(s): Dr David G. Newman MB, BS, DAvMed, PhD, MRAeS, FAICD, AFAIM Consultant in Aviation Medicine Flight Medicine Systems Pty Ltd
Publication date: 3 December 2007
Related: General Aviation
 
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Last update 07 April 2014
 
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