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What is spatial disorientation?

On Behalf of | Apr 11, 2022 | Small Airplane Crashes

Aviation accidents may occur for various reasons, but spatial disorientation is one of the most common precursors. If a pilot becomes subject to spatial disorientation, he or she may lose control of the aircraft.

As explained by the Federal Aviation Administration, your body’s senses may conflict with what you see in the air.

What causes spatial disorientation?

Your senses and sight need to align to remain oriented in the skies. In the sky, however, you lose some visibility. You have receptors in your skin, tendons, joints and muscles, and organs near your inner ear that control your senses. When you reach new heights and acceleration, your body compares what you see to what your body feels. You may have a sensory mismatch that leads to disorientation.

Some illusions you may see include autokinetic and false visual reference illusions. Autokinetic illusions appear that stationary objects are in motion in front of your path. If you stare at a single point of light against a dark background, you may see the light on course to collide with the aircraft. A false visual reference illusion, on the other hand, may make you see a false horizon. For example, if you fly over banked clouds or featureless terrain, you may orient your plane to a false horizon.

How can you fight spatial disorientation?

One of the most important ways to combat spatial disorientation is to understand what causes spatial disorientation. Rely heavily on your flight instruments when you have reduced visibility. You need to trust your instruments more than you trust your body because it is possible for your body to give off the wrong signals.

To fly safely, always learn the terrain and weather patterns in advance.