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Aviation spatial orientation in relationship to head position and attitude interpretation
Abstract and Figures
Conventional wisdom describing aviation spatial awareness assumes that pilots view a moving horizon through the windscreen. This assumption presupposes head alignment with the cockpit "Z" axis during both visual (VMC) and instrument (IMC) maneuvers. Even though this visual paradigm is widely accepted, its accuracy has not been verified. The purpose of this research was to determine if a visually induced neck reflex causes pilots to align their heads toward the horizon, rather than the cockpit vertical axis. Based on literature describing reflexive head orientation in terrestrial environments it was hypothesized that during simulated VMC aircraft maneuvers, pilots would align their heads toward the horizon. Some 14 military pilots completed two simulated flights in a stationary dome simulator. The flight profile consisted of five separate tasks, four of which evaluated head tilt during exposure to unique visual conditions and one examined occurrences of disorientation during unusual attitude recovery. During simulated visual flight maneuvers, pilots tilted their heads toward the horizon (p < 0.0001). Under IMC, pilots maintained head alignment with the vertical axis of the aircraft. During VMC maneuvers pilots reflexively tilt their heads toward the horizon, away from the Gz axis of the cockpit. Presumably, this behavior stabilizes the retinal image of the horizon (1 degree visual-spatial cue), against which peripheral images of the cockpit (2 degrees visual-spatial cue) appear to move. Spatial disorientation, airsickness, and control reversal error may be related to shifts in visual-vestibular sensory alignment during visual transitions between VMC (head tilt) and IMC (Gz head stabilized) conditions.
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