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Archived Comments for: Orientation and disorientation in aviation

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  1. Disorientation and illusion are well known...

    Anthony Schapera, Self

    21 January 2014 occur under many conditions in aviation particularly where fixed, familiar geographical landmarks are absent e.g., a calm sea in sea 'plane operations, a dark night, glacier landing, mountain terrain, up sloping or down sloping runways, etc., etc. (I know this from my experience as a multi-rated pilot operating high performance aircraft).

    All these situations are aggravated during any aircraft attitude other than straight-and-level operation, such as turning from base leg to final approach upon landing. This latter situation on a dark night with minimal geographical reference points as guides and an unfamiliar aircraft were contributory factors in the fatal accident that killed a friend of mine ( the famous mountaineer and photographer Galen Rowell), his wife, the pilot ( also an acquaintance) and pilot's friend in August 2002 at my home airport in Bishop California ( KBIH).

    Pilots are routinely warned of these hazards and the need to operate according to reliable, indisputable data such as altitude relevant to the geographical location, airspeed, and navigation instrumentation (attitude indicator, rate of descent indicator, directional gyroscope etc). Most aircraft are now easily fitted with either relatively cheap portable or fixed panel GPS and accelerometer based navigation aids that provide immediate and continuous situational awareness with high resolution. Being able to decide when a VFR ( visual flight rules ) or an IFR ( instrument flight rule ) mentality is appropriate must be emphasised in training and proficiency testing for all aviators!

    Competing interests