from the don't-you-run dept.
Spatial disorientation (SD) is the leading aeromedical cause of Class A mishaps not only throughout DoD aviation, but in commercial flying as well including problems coping with the Black Hole Illusion, or BHI – when a pilot on a nighttime runway approach in a poorly lit area perceives he is higher than he should be and descends to a lower approach. So what causes this visual illusion? Perception scientists don’t exactly know for sure. There is disagreement as to the exact cause and probably no one theory alone fully explains the phenomenon. Across the services, SD related mishaps result in average annual losses of 25 lives and $400 million in aircraft. Now Bryant Jordan reports from Defense Tech that researchers have developed new simulation and training programs to help all Defense Department pilots avoid BHI and another potentially fatal spatial misperception. The unit tested a team of 38 pilots in day– and nighttime simulation landings, finding that they all flew near perfect approaching in the daylight. But 92 percent made “significantly low BHI approaches” in the nighttime simulation, the report said. On average, they were 148 feet too low when 1.5 nautical miles from the runaway, it said. “If unlit high terrain or obstacles are near the approach path the results can be fatal,” says Henry P. Williams, a researcher with the Naval Medical Research Unit-Dayton. After BHI training pilots were, on average, just three feet too low at the same distance from the runway.
Another spatial disorientation problem tackled in the same study was Control Reversal Error, or CRE, which occurs when pilots lose visuals on a lead aircraft while making turns – as will happen flying into clouds. When that happens pilots swap over to instrument control to recover from the turn, but in nearly a quarter of the cases pilots turned in the wrong direction and steepened the angle of bank (PDF), researchers found. "This error can be extremely dangerous in actual instrument flight, leading to incapacitating [spatial disorientation] and a fatal departure from controlled flight."