Tag Archives: flight

I want to be That Guy

This blog is about General Aviation and Flight Training. So far I have been writing about flying lessons in an airplane, as this is what I have been involved in as a professional pilot and flight instructor. Even though before I got into airplanes, I used to fly gliders. And during my own flight training I got me an opportunity to sky dive, which was a total blast!

As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago I decided to drive down to the Lodi, CA airport, which is right off highway 99, and got some information on taking some professional sky diving lessons. I was hoping to be able to do this before I get back to working full time again. And today, a friend and a former student Christophe (from France) sent me a link to this cool Hang Glider pilot’s video on YouTube, and now I am thinking….:-)

I want to be that Guy – Nicholas Cage

Flight Training Scholarships for the Physically Disabled

In the past I have posted a list of 101 General Aviation and Flight Training Scholarships, Federal Aid for Flight Training, and An Aircraft in each Household – a Dream or Reality. Now read about how a non-profit Able Flight in partnership with a top aviation university, Purdue University is making it possible for disabled individuals to earn their Sport Pilot certificate in less than a month, and that too with full aviation scholarship!

Able Flight is a non-profit which provides scholarships to handicapped people to assist them learn to fly, and Purdue University’s Department of Aviation Technology have partnered up, for a joint flight training project for summer 2010. Beginning in later part of May or early June, 2-4 Able Flight scholarship recipients will reside in “accessible” university housing and be trained by university flight instructors at the Purdue University Airport in West Lafayette, Indiana. The student pilots will have the opportunity to earn their Sport Pilot certificates in only a month.

Over the next few months, Able Flight will select scholarship winners from it’s pool of candidates, with priority given to current or incoming Purdue University students and other Indiana state residents with physical disabilities. Current Purdue students may earn course credit for the ground school portion of their training, and other student pilots may qualify for continuing education credits (CEC).

The student pilots will train in specially modified aircraft suited to their physical needs. At least one Sky Arrow LSA will be available for the project and is being provided by Sean O’Donnell of Philly Sport Pilot. Philly Sport Pilot will also provide transitional training for university flight instructors in the Sky Arrow.

“The Aviation Technology program at Purdue is devoted to access to aviation. We see the collaboration with Able Flight as a unique opportunity for a collegiate aviation program to extend the freedom of flight to individuals that might not be aware they can fly. Purdue’s aviation program is world-class and we need the best and brightest individuals. Physical barriers should not impede the opportunity to fly and we want all people to know they can fly at Purdue. Purdue is committed to pre-eminent leadership in aviation technology and Able Flight will bring to us a new cadre of people who otherwise might not consider careers in aviation.” – Dr. Brent Bowen, department head of the program

“We’re excited to work with Purdue to create this opportunity for our scholarship winners. Purdue’s Department of Aviation Technology is not only one of the premier aviation programs in the country, it is an innovative leader in the training of pilots and aeronautical engineers. During their time there, our student pilots will be immersed in flying in a demanding but supportive setting, and have the chance to explore opportunities for future undergraduate and graduate degrees in aviation.” – Charles Stites, Able Flight

If you need more information regarding this, you may visit their respective website. ableflight.org and purdue.edu

Sean D. Tucker with Oprah Winfrey (video)

Ok guys. The other day I wrote about Sean D. Tucker, the world famous aerobatic pilot, who also is an honorary Thunderbird and Blue Angel, and performs for the the Team Oracle, and was supposed to be on Oprah’s TV show. If you did not get a chance to get the courage, or time, to sit and watch that show, here is a YouTube video recording of the show for you.

And if you do not know who Sean Tucker is, you can click here and read all about him in my previous post. The show was nice; with Sean in it, of course. His competition this time, for the time and attention on the Oprah was Oprah’s new favorite pair of jeans. Obviously, we don’t have the jeans part in this video. If you really want to watch that segment, the one with her jeans, you can always go to YouTube and search for it.

Sean is the only civilian pilot that I know of, who has flown in formation with the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds , and the Canadian Snowbirds. He has many other awards, recognitions, and things like that under his belt.

He trained with Amelia Reid; the first lady of aviation of California at Reid Hillview airport, San Jose, CA. And BTW, so did Rod Machado.

We’ll talk about Amelia Reid and Rod Machado some other time. Now go ahead and watch the Sean Tucker and Oprah video, and leave a comment here if you wish.

Careers in Aviation – 9 Pilot Certificates Explained

Guest Post by: Erik Johannessen

There are millions of Persons around the world, who have learned to fly. Some of them do it just for fun, others use it as a way to travel to work and there are others who become career pilots to earn a living.

If you are starting to do research on how to learn to fly, it can sometimes become an overwhelming task, but stay calm it is not as hard as it looks!!! There are 9 different types of basic certificates. In successive order of qualifications they include student, sport, recreational, private, instrument rated, commercial, certified flight instructor, airline transport pilot and designated pilot examiner. This system of certificates, together with a set of add-on ratings is used to specify the different types of flying a pilot may do.

To successfully acquire a certain certificate, a pilot must complete ground school, written examination, oral examination and flight test. The good thing is that these certificates never expire until they are surrendered, suspended or revoked. However to be able to fly the pilot is required to remain current in certain things such as to hold a valid medical certificate and to fly a certain amount of hours per year.

Let me explain to you each certificate in more detail. Note that this information is based on FAA rules. The rules imposed by the Regulatory Agencies of your country might be slightly different, however in context they are pretty much the same.

Student Pilot

This is the starting point for everyone who wants to learn to fly. It is also the point where you will know if you will like flying or not. This can happen as early as your first flight. In my case, on the first flight I felt like I was the King of the World. Student pilot privileges are very limited, however they provide enough freedom to allow you to learn all of the basics, including cross country flying and interaction with ATC.

When you are starting to learn how to fly, you complete all of your flights with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) on board. If you have reached the age of 16, have a valid Class III medical and have mastered the basic skills and educational topics of flight, you can make your first solo (Make a flight normally at an airport with low traffic, the location may vary from CFI to CFI, without an instructor or other certified pilots at the controls).

As a student pilot you are allowed to operate only near to your “home-base” and with a sign-off by your CFI you can travel to other local airports to practice your cross country skills. You may only fly in good weather during the day and night. You may think “I have a CFI on board and if weather gets worse he can fly back”. In general terms that is true, but it would be a waste of your money, since those hours do not count towards your certificate. I personally do not recommend it, but hey, it is your money. As a student pilot you are not allowed to carry passengers or fly for hire. Flying on busy Class B airspaces is usually not permitted without a special permission from your CFI.

Sport Pilot

Sport pilots fly in aircraft that fly at low speeds – less than 100 mph. The sport pilot certificate created new medical standards for pilots. These pilots usually do not require Medical Certificates. The only proof they need is to have a current valid driver’s license.

To get this certificate you must be at least 17 years old and have a minimum of 20 hours of flight time. This includes 15 hours of flight training and 5 hours of solo flight.

As a Sport pilot you may fly cross-country; however, you cannot operate at airports or airspaces that require ATC communication unless you receive the proper training and endorsements from a CFI. You are also not allowed to fly after dark and with more than one passenger on board.

Every 24 months the pilot is required to revalidate their certificate by undertaking a flight review with a CFI.

Recreational Pilots

Recreational pilots are primarily people who learn to fly for fun, with little interest in becoming professional pilots or using airplanes as a practical means of traveling from place to place. Recreational pilots must be at least 17 years old and have a minimum of 30 hours of flight time (the real-world average is more than 40 hours), including a minimum of 15 hours of flight instruction.

Recreational pilots may not fly more than 50 nautical miles (about 58 miles) from an airport at which they have received instruction, unless they receive appropriate cross-country training and a special instructor’s endorsement. Recreational pilots may not carry more than one passenger at a time, and they may not fly for hire or at night. They are not permitted to operate an aircraft on any charity flights, nor in connection with a business or their employment. They may fly only single-engine airplanes that have fixed landing gear, no more than four seats, and an engine of no more than 180 hp. They may not fly in airspace where communication with air traffic control (ATC) is required unless they receive the appropriate training and have a special endorsement from a certificated flight instructor (CFI).

As a result of these restrictions, the vast majority of people studying for their recreational pilot certificate continue to earn their private pilot certificate. Because of this, there usually are only about 300 pilots with the recreational certificate each year.

Recreational pilots must have a current Class III medical, which they must renew every 24 or 36 months (depending upon age). They must revalidate their pilot certificates every 24 months by undertaking a flight review with a CFI.

Private Pilots

Private pilots comprise the largest group of pilots and are among the most active flyers. In 2003, there were 241,045 private pilots. To become a private pilot, one must be at least 17 years old and have a minimum of 40 hours of flight time (the actual average is about 70 hours), including 20 hours of instruction and 10 hours of solo. Pilots trained according to accelerated curricula defined in Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations may be certified with a minimum of 35 hours of flight time.

A private pilot — with appropriate training, ratings, and endorsements (e.g., floatplane, tail dragger, multiengine, helicopter, jet, retractable gear, pressurized, high-performance, complex, etc.) — may carry passengers in any aircraft, day or night, good or bad weather (see Instrument Rating below).

Private pilots may not fly for compensation or hire (no passenger or revenue services) but may share equally with their passengers the direct operating expenses of a flight — specifically fuel, oil, airport parking and landing fees, and aircraft rental charges.

Private pilots must have a current Class III medical, which they must renew every 24 or 36 months (depending upon age). They must revalidate their pilot certificates every 24 months by undertaking a flight review with a certificated flight instructor (CFI).

Instrument Rating

While technically not a pilot certificate, the instrument rating is the most common and logical step to take after gaining some experience while flying with a private pilot certificate. This add-on rating allows a pilot to fly in weather with reduced visibilities such as rain, low clouds, or heavy haze. When flying in these conditions, pilots follow instrument flight rules (IFR). The instrument rating provides the skills needed to complete flights without visual reference to the ground, except for the takeoff and landing phases. All pilots who fly above 18,000 feet mean sea level (msl) must have an instrument rating.

The instrument rating makes the use of aircraft more practical for routine transportation because most of the time, an “IFR-rated” pilot will be able to safely conduct their flight in spite of the weather conditions they may encounter.

The instrument rating requires highly specialized training by a certificated flight instructor (CFI) with a special instrument instruction rating (CFII), and completion of an additional written exam, oral exam, and flight test. Pilots applying for an instrument rating must hold at least a current private pilot certificate and medical, have logged at least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, and have at least 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time including at least 15 hours of instrument flight training and instrument training on cross-country flight procedures.

If not used on a regular and sufficient basis, pilots must revalidate their instrument rating every 12 months by undertaking an instrument proficiency check with a CFI.

Commercial Pilots

As the name implies, commercial pilots can be paid to fly aircraft. Commercial pilots must be at least 18 years old and have a minimum of 250 hours of flight time (190 hours under the accelerated curriculum defined in Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations), including 100 hours in powered aircraft, 50 hours in airplanes, and 100 hours as pilot in command (of which 50 hours must be cross-country flight time). They must hold an instrument rating, or be restricted to flying for hire only in daylight, under visual flight rules (VFR), within 50 miles of the originating airport. They may fly for hire in accordance with applicable parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Certified Flight Instructor

A certificated flight instructor (CFI) is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to give instruction to student pilots and pilots taking recurrent training or preparing for additional certificates or ratings. They also may give flight reviews and recommend their students for flight tests. CFIs must be at least 18 years old and must hold at least a commercial pilot certificate and instrument rating. CFIs may earn a special instrument instructor rating, allowing them to teach instrument flying (operating an aircraft in the air solely by instrument indications without visual reference to the ground). An instructor with this rating is called a CFII.

In addition to undertaking their normal flight review every 24 months, CFIs must revalidate their instructor certification every 24 months. There were 87,816 flight instructors in 2003.

Airline Transport Pilots

This is the doctorate degree of piloting — and 143,504 pilots were in this distinguished category in 2003. Airline transport pilots (ATPs) must be at least 23 years old and have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time, including 500 hours of cross-country flight time, 100 hours of night flying, and 75 hours in actual or simulated instrument flight conditions. Most ATPs have many thousands of hours of flight time. ATPs also must have a commercial certificate and an instrument rating. ATPs may instruct other pilots in air transportation service in aircraft in which the ATP is rated. They may not instruct pilots outside of air transportation service unless they also have an appropriate fight instructor certificate.

ATPs must have a current and much more stringent Class I medical, which they are required to renew every six months. Like all pilots, they must revalidate their certificates every 24 months with a flight review. However, most active ATPs undergo a check ride in an aircraft or simulator every six months.

Designated Examiner

If the airline transport pilot is the doctorate degree of piloting, then becoming a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated pilot examiner (DPE) is the equivalent of mastering advanced post-doctoral work. These individuals are few and far between. They’re almost like judges in that they have to be appointed by the regional FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). Before one can become a DPE, he or she usually has to wait for one of the current DPEs in that region of the United States to retire. As the name implies, these people have been designated by the FAA to test or examine the performance of their fellow pilots. DPEs typically have decades of real-world experience and perform the majority of official FAA check rides or flight tests for everyone from new pilots to seasoned airline captains.

About the Author: visit vikingo.com.gt for more information on me and a lot of aviation contents Article Source: ArticlesBase.comCareer in Aviation – 9 Pilot Certificates Explained

Hypoxia – Oxygen deprivation

Breathing is one of the most automatic things we do — over 20,000 times a day. Each breath does two things for our body. It expels carbon dioxide when we exhale, and takes in oxygen when we inhale. It’s a delicate balance.

Exercise or stress increases the production of carbon dioxide, so we breathe faster to eliminate it and take in more oxygen at a greater rate. Because of the effects of gravity, the amount of air containing oxygen is greater at sea level.

For example, the pressure at sea level is twice that found at 18,000 feet MSL. Although the percentage of oxygen contained in air at 18,000 feet is identical to that at sea level (a little over 20%), the amount of air our lungs take in with each breath contains half the oxygen found at sea level. Breathing faster or more deeply doesn’t help. In fact, because you’re consciously over-riding a system that is normally automatic, you’ll be compounding the problem by exhaling too much carbon dioxide.

Supplemental Oxygen

The solution is simple, familiar to most pilots, and required by FAR 91.211: supplemental oxygen. This regulation specifies a 30-minute limit before oxygen is required on flights between 12,500 and 14,000 feet MSL, and immediately upon exposure to cabin pressures above 14,000 feet MSL. For best protection, you are encouraged to use supplemental oxygen above 10,000 feet MSL.

At night, because vision is particularly sensitive to diminished oxygen, a prudent rule is to use supplemental oxygen when flying above 6,000 feet MSL. So, when you fly at high altitudes, supplemental oxygen is the only solution. That’s because supplemental oxygen satisfies the twin demands of having enough oxygen to meet your body’s demands and a breathing rate that excretes the right amount of carbon dioxide.


Unfortunately, our body doesn’t give us reliable signals at the onset of hypoxia — oxygen starvation — unless we have received special training to recognize the symptoms. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. The brain is the first part of the body to reflect a diminished oxygen supply, and the evidence of that is usually a loss of judgment.

Hypoxia tests

Altitude chamber tests, in which high altitude flight conditions are duplicated, have shown that some people in an oxygen deficient environment actually experience a sense of euphoria — a feeling of increased well-being. These subjects can’t write their name intelligibly, or even sort a deck of cards by suits…yet, they think they’re doing just fine! Such is the insidious nature of oxygen deprivation. It sneaks up on the unwary and steals the first line of sensory protection — the sense that something is wrong — dreadfully wrong.

The higher you go

Bear in mind, the progressive reduction of oxygen per breath will continue the higher you go. Flying above a layer of clouds that doesn’t look too high, or flying in the mountains on a clear day — are the very environments that have caused many good “flat-land” pilots to get into trouble.


Everyone’s response to hypoxia varies. Unless, as we’ve stated, you’ve had special training to recognize its symptoms, hypoxia doesn’t give you much warning. It steals up on you, giving your body subtle clues. The order of symptoms varies among individuals: increased breathing rate, headache, lightheadedness, dizziness, tingling or warm sensations, sweating, poor coordination, impaired judgment, tunnel vision, and euphoria. Unless detected early and dealt with, hypoxia can be a real killer.

Caution and safety

So, don’t decide you’ll try to fly over that range of mountains, thinking you’ll turn back if you start to feel badly. You may feel great…until it’s too late! Use supplemental oxygen.

Smoking and altitude

A Western state pilot lived to tell about this one. Cruising at 13,500 feet MSL over mountainous terrain in his light single, he took a deep drag on his cigarette and next remembered being in a screaming dive with just enough altitude left in which to pull out! That deep drag replaced precious oxygen in his brain with carbon monoxide…and he passed out.


  • When you breathe, you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.
  • With each normal breath, you inhale about one-half liter of air, 20% of which is oxygen.
  • At 18,000’ MSL, you have half the sea level air pressure; hence, only half the oxygen.
  • Oxygen starvation first affects the brain; judgment is impaired, so you may not know you are in trouble.
  • We all react differently to the effects of hypoxia. Only physiological training can safely “break the code” for you.

Physiological training for pilots

The effects of hypoxia can be safely experienced under professional supervision at the Civil Aeromedical Institute’s altitude chamber in Oklahoma City and at 14 cooperating military installations throughout the U.S. If you would like to attend a one-day physiological training course, ask your FAA Accident Prevention Specialist for AC Form 3150-7. You’ll learn to recognize your symptoms of hypoxia. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Medical Facts for Pilots Publication AM-400-90/2 (Revised May 2004) Prepared by Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aerospace Medical Institute Aerospace Medical Education Division

History of Flight

From prehistoric times, humans have watched the flight of birds, longed to imitate them, but lacked the power to do so. Logic dictated that if the small muscles of birds can lift them into the air and sustain them, then the larger muscles of humans should be able to duplicate the feat. No one knew about the intricate mesh of muscles, sinew, heart, breathing system, and devices not unlike wing flaps, variable-camber and spoilers of the modern airplane that enabled a bird to fly. Still, thousands of years and countless lives were lost in attempts to fly like birds.

The identity of the first “bird-men” who fitted themselves with wings and leapt off a cliff in an effort to fly are lost in time, but each failure gave those who wished to fly questions that needed answering. Where had the wing flappers gone wrong? Philosophers, scientists, and inventors offered solutions, but no one could add wings to the human body and soar like a bird. During the 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci filled pages of his notebooks with sketches of proposed flying machines, but most of his ideas were flawed because he clung to the idea of birdlike wings. [Fig 1] By 1655, mathematician, physicist, and inventor Robert Hooke concluded the human body does not possess the strength to power artificial wings. He believed human flight would require some form of artificial propulsion.

The quest for human flight led some practitioners in another direction. In 1783, the first manned hot air balloon, crafted by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, flew for 23 minutes. Ten days later, Professor Jacques Charles flew the first gas balloon. A madness for balloon flight captivated the public’s imagination and for a time flying enthusiasts turned their expertise to the promise of lighter-than-air flight. But for all its majesty in the air, the balloon was little more than a billowing heap of cloth capable of no more than a one-way, downwind journey.

Balloons solved the problem of lift, but that was only one of the problems of human flight. The ability to control speed and direction eluded balloonists. The solution to that problem lay in a child’s toy familiar to the East for 2,000 years, but not introduced to the West until the 13th century. The kite, used by the Chinese manned for aerial observation and to test winds for sailing, and unmanned as a signaling device and as a toy, held many of the answers to lifting a heavier-than-air device into the air.

One of the men who believed the study of kites unlocked the secrets of winged flight was Sir George Cayley. Born in England 10 years before the Mongolfier balloon flight, Cayley spent his 84 years seeking to develop a heavier-than-air vehicle supported by kite-shaped wings. [Fig 2] The “Father of Aerial Navigation,” Cayley discovered the basic principles on which the modern science of aeronautics is founded, built what is recognized as the first successful flying model, and tested the first full-size man-carrying airplane.

For the half-century after Cayley’s death, countless scientists, flying enthusiasts, and inventors worked toward building a powered flying machine. Men, such as William Samuel Henson, who designed a huge monoplane that was propelled by a steam engine housed inside the fuselage, and Otto Lilienthal, who proved human flight in aircraft heavier than air was practical, worked toward the dream of powered flight. A dream turned into reality by Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

The bicycle-building Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, had experimented for 4 years with kites, their own homemade wind tunnel, and different engines to power their biplane. One of their great achievements was proving the value of the scientific, rather than build-it-and-see approach to flight. Their biplane, The Flyer, combined inspired design and engineering with superior craftsmanship. [Fig 3] By the afternoon of December 17th, the Wright brothers had flown a total of 98 seconds on four flights. The age of flight had arrived.

Medications and Flying

Does this story sound familiar?

It’s Sunday morning, the last day of a three-day trip. You have four hours of flying ahead of you to get back home, but something about the air conditioner last night has left you with stuffy nose and sinuses this morning. You know from your training and experience that flying with congested upper airways is not a good thing. As it turns out, one of the others on the trip has some new over-the-counter sinus pills that are “guaranteed” to unstop your breathing passages and let you fly without any worries about the congestion. Should you take the medication?

Another scenario

You and your spouse are on the second leg of a five-leg, cross-country flight. While visiting relatives, you stayed up late at the party they threw in your honor, ate too much, and the next morning your stomach feels sort of queasy. Your spouse, a non-pilot, offers you a common motion-sickness pill prescribed by her doctor. Should you take the medication?

Get the facts

Just like any other decision (equipment, weather, etc.) that you must make when you fly, you should know all the facts before you can answer this question. There are several things that you need to know and take into account before you make the go/no-go decision. Add these to your check list:

  • First, consider the underlying condition that you are treating. What will be the consequences if the medication doesn’t work or if it wears off before the flight is over? A good general rule to follow is not to fly if you must depend on the medication to keep the flight safe. In other words, if the untreated condition is one that would prevent safe flying, then you shouldn’t fly until the condition improves — whether you take the medication or not.
  • Second, you must consider your reaction to the medication. There are two broad categories of medication reactions. One is a unique reaction based on an individual’s biological make-up. Most people don’t have such reactions but anyone can, given the right medication. Because of this, you should NEVER fly after taking any medication that you have not taken before. It is not until after you have taken the medication that you will find out whether you have this uncommon and unexpected reaction to the medication.
  • Third, consider the potential for adverse reactions, or side effects — unwanted reactions to medications. This type of reaction is quite common, and the manufacturer of the medication lists these on the label. You MUST carefully read all labeling. If you don’t have access to the label, then don’t fly while using the medication.

Look for such key words such as light-headedness, dizziness, drowsiness, or visual disturbance. If these side effects are listed or if the label contains a warning about operating motor vehicles or machinery, then you should not fly while using the medication. Side effects can occur at any time, so even if you’ve taken the same medication in the past without experiencing side effects, they could still occur the next time. For this reason, you must never fly after taking a medication with any of the above-noted side effects.

If you must take over-the-counter medications,

  • Read and follow the label directions.
  • If the label warns of significant side effects, do not fly after taking the medication until at least two dosing intervals have passed. For example, if the directions say to take the medication every 6 hours, wait until at least 12 hours after the last dose to fly.
  • Remember that you should not fly if the underlying condition that you are treating would make you unsafe if the medication fails to work.
  • Never fly after taking a new medication for the first time.
  • As with alcohol, medications may impair your ability to fly—even though you feel fine.
  • If you have questions about a medication, ask your aviation medical examiner.
  • When in doubt, don’t fly.

Prescription Medications

When your treating physician prescribes a medication for you, be sure to ask about possible side effects and the safety of using the medication while flying. Since most of their patients are not pilots, many physicians don’t think about the special needs of pilots when they prescribe medication. You must also discuss the medical condition that is being treated. You may want to ask your physician to contact your aviation medical examiner to discuss the implications of flying with the medical condition and the medication.

When your pharmacy fills the prescription, let the pharmacist know that you are a pilot. Pharmacists are experts in medication side effects and can often provide advice that supplements the information that your physician gives you. The pharmacist will provide you with written information about your medication. You should treat this just like the label of an over-the-counter medication mentioned above. Read, understand, and follow the information and instructions that are given with the medication. Never hesitate to discuss possible problems with your physician, pharmacist, or aviation medical examiner.

The Bottom Line

What you must remember about medications


…you will develop a medical condition that is not safe to fly with. Whether you take a medication for the condition or not, you should wait to fly until the condition is either gone or significantly improved.

…you will have an ongoing (chronic) medical condition that your physician has prescribed a medication to treat. You should discuss the medical condition and treatment with your physician, pharmacist, and aviation medical examiner and make your flying decision based on their advice.

…you will have a medical condition that makes you uncomfortable but does not impair your ability to safely fly. If flying is very important, you may take either over-the-counter medications or prescription medications — within the guidelines suggested above.

Flying is important for many reasons. Not one of these reasons, however, is worth risking your life or the lives of those around you. Treat all medications with caution, and you’ll be around to become one of the “old” pilots.

MEDICAL FACTS FOR PILOTS Publication OK05-0005 Written by: Steve Carpenter, MD Prepared by: Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aerospace Medical Institute Aerospace Medical Education Division

Visual Illusions – Spatial Disorientation

Seeing Is Not Believing

Spatial Orientation

Spatial orientation defines our natural ability to maintain our body orientation and/or posture in relation to the surrounding environment (physical space) at rest  and during motion. Genetically speaking, humans are designed to maintain spatial orientation on the ground. The flight environment is hostile and unfamiliar to the human body; it creates sensory conflicts and illusions that make spatial orientation difficult, and, in some cases, even impossible to achieve. Statistics show that between 5 to 10% of all general aviation accidents can be attributed to spatial disorientation, and 90% of these accidents are fatal.

Spatial Orientation on the Ground

Good spatial orientation on the ground relies on the effective perception, integration, and interpretation of visual, vestibular (organs of equilibrium located in the inner ear), and proprioceptive (receptors located in the skin, muscles, tendons, and joints) sensory information. Changes in linear acceleration, angular acceleration, and gravity are detected by the vestibular system and the proprioceptive receptors, and then compared in the brain with visual information (Figure 1).

Spatial Orientation In Flight

Spatial orientation in flight is sometimes difficult to achieve because the various types of sensory stimuli (visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive) vary in magnitude, direction, and frequency. Any differences or discrepancies between visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive sensory inputs result in a “sensory mismatch” that can produce illusions and lead to spatial disorientation.

Vision and Spatial Orientation

Visual references provide the most important sensory information to maintain spatial orientation on the ground and during flight, especially when the body and/or the environment are in motion. Even birds, reputable flyers, are unable to maintain spatial orientation and fly safely when deprived of vision (due to clouds or fog).

Only bats have developed the ability to fly without vision but have replaced their vision with auditory echolocation. So, it should not be any surprise to us that, when we fly under conditions of limited visibility, we have problems maintaining spatial orientation.

Central Vision

Central vision, also known as foveal vision is involved with the identification of objects and the perception of colors. During instrument flight rules (IFR) flights, central vision allows pilots to acquire information from the flight instruments that is processed by the brain to provide orientational information. During visual flight rules (VFR) flights, central vision allows pilots to acquire external information (monocular and binocular) to make judgments of distance, speed, and depth.

Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision, also known as ambient vision, is involved with the perception of movement (self and surrounding environment) and provides peripheral reference cues to maintain spatial orientation. This capability enables orientation independent from central vision and that is why we can walk while reading. With peripheral vision, motion of the surrounding environment produces a perception of self-motion even if we are standing or sitting still.

Visual References

Visual references that provide information about distance, speed, and depth of visualized objects include:

  • Comparative size of known objects at different distances.
  • Comparative form or shape of known objects at different distances.
  • Relative velocity of images moving across the retina. Nearby objects are perceived as moving faster than distant objects .
  • Interposition of known objects. One object placed in front of another is perceived as being closer to the observer.
  • Varying texture or contrast of known objects at different distances. Object detail and contrast are lost with distance.
  • Differences in illumination perspective of objects due to light and shadows.
  • Differences in aerial perspective of visualized objects. More distant objects are seen as bluish and blurry.

The flight attitude of an airplane is generally determined by the pilot’s visual reference to the natural horizon. When the natural horizon is obscured, attitude can sometimes be maintained by visual reference to the surface below. If neither horizon nor surface visual references exist, the airplane’s attitude can only be determined by artificial means such as an attitude indicator or other flight instruments. Surface references or the natural horizon may at times become obscured by smoke, fog, smog, haze, dust, ice particles, or other phenomena, although visibility may be above VFR minimums. This is especially true at airports located adjacent to large bodies of water or sparsely populated areas, where few, if any, surface references are available. Lack of horizon or surface reference is common on over-water flights, at night, or in low visibility conditions.

Visual Illusions

Visual illusions are familiar to most of us. As children, we learned that railroad tracks —contrary to what our eyes showed us— don’t come to a point at the horizon. Even under conditions of good visibility, you can experience visual illusions including:

Aerial Perspective Illusions may make you change (increase or decrease) the slope of your final approach. They are caused by runways with different widths, upsloping or downsloping runways, and upsloping or downsloping final approach terrain. Pilots learn to recognize a normal final approach by developing and recalling a mental image of the expected relationship between the length and the width of an average runway (Figure 2).

A final approach over a flat terrain with an upsloping runway may produce the visual illusion of a high-altitude final approach.

If you believe this illusion, you may respond by pitching the aircraft nose down to decrease the altitude, which, if performed too close to the ground, may result in an accident (Figure 3).

A final approach over a flat terrain with a downsloping runway may produce the visual illusion of a low-altitude final approach. If you believe this illusion, you may respond by pitching the aircraft nose up to increase the altitude, which may result in a low-altitude stall or a missed approach (Figure 4).

A final approach over an upsloping terrain with a flat runway may produce the visual illusion of a low-altitude final approach. If you believe this illusion, you may
respond by pitching the aircraft nose up to increase the altitude, which may result in a low-altitude stall or a missed approach (Figure 5).

A final approach over a downsloping terrain with a flat runway may produce the visual illusion of a high-altitude final approach. If you believe this illusion, you may respond by pitching the aircraft nose down to decrease the altitude, which, if performed too close to the ground, may result in an accident (Figure 6).

A final approach to an unusually narrow runway or an unusually long runway may produce the visual illusion of a high-altitude final approach. If you believe this
illusion, you may respond by pitching the aircraft nose down to decrease the altitude, which, if performed too close to the ground may result in an accident (Figure 7).

A final approach to an unusually wide runway may produce the visual illusion of a low-altitude final approach. If you believe this illusion, you may respond by pitching the aircraft nose up to increase the altitude, which may result in a low-altitude stall or a missed approach(Figure 8).

A Black-Hole Approach Illusion can happen during a final approach at night (no stars or moonlight) over water or unlighted terrain to a lighted runway beyond which the horizon is not visible.

In the example (Figure 9), when peripheral visual cues are not available to help you orient yourself relative to the earth, you may have the illusion of being upright and may perceive the runway to be tilted left and upsloping. However, with the horizon visible (Figure 10), you can easily orient yourself correctly using your central vision.

A particularly hazardous black-hole illusion involves approaching a runway under conditions with no lights before the runway and with city lights or rising terrain beyond the runway. These conditions may produce the visual illusion of a high altitude final approach. If you believe this illusion, you may respond by lowering your
approach slope (Figure 11).

The Autokinetic Illusion gives you the impression that a stationary object is moving in front of the airplane’s path; it is caused by staring at a fixed single point of light (ground light or a star) in a totally dark and featureless background. This illusion can cause a misperception that such a light is on a collision course with your aircraft (Figure 12).

False Visual Reference Illusions may cause you to orient your aircraft in relation to a false horizon; these illusions are caused by flying over a banked cloud, night flying over featureless terrain with ground lights that are indistinguishable from a dark sky with stars, or night flying over a featureless terrain with a clearly defined pattern of ground lights and a dark, starless sky (Figure 13).

Vection Illusion: A common example is when you are stopped at a traffic light in your car and the car next to you edges forward. Your brain interprets this peripheral visual information as though you are moving backwards and makes you apply additional pressure to the brakes. A similar illusion can happen while taxiing an aircraft.

How to Prevent Spatial Disorientation

  • Take the opportunity to personally experience sensory illusions in a Barany chair, a Vertigon, a GYRO, or a Virtual Reality Spatial Disorientation Demonstrator (VRSDD). By experiencing sensory illusions first hand (on the ground), pilots are better prepared to recognize a sensory illusion when it happens during flight and to take immediate action. The Aeromedical Education Division of the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute offers spatial disorientation demonstrations with the GYRO and the VRSDD in Oklahoma City and at all of the major airshows in the continental U.S.
  • Obtain training and maintain your proficiency in aircraft control by reference to instruments.
  • When flying at night or in reduced visibility, use and rely on your flight instruments.
  • Study and become familiar with unique geographical conditions where flight is intended.
  • Do not attempt visual flight when there is a possibility of being trapped in deteriorating weather.
  • If you experience a visual illusion during flight (most pilots do at one time or another), have confidence in your instruments and ignore all conflicting signals your body gives you. Accidents usually happen as a result of a pilot’s indecision to rely on the instruments.
  • If you are one of two pilots in an aircraft and you begin to experience a visual illusion, transfer control of the aircraft to the other pilot, since pilots seldom experience visual illusions at the same time.
  • By being knowledgeable, relying on experience, and trusting your instruments, you will be contributing to keeping the skies safe for everyone.

Medical Facts for Pilots Publication AAM-400-00/1 Revised by: Melchor J. Antuñano, M.D. Prepared by Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aerospace Medical Institute Aerospace Medical Education Division

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