What is spatial disorientation? How does it affect pilots and how can it be prevented?


20 Apr 2022

Statistics show that between 5% and 10% of all general aviation accidents can be attributed to spatial disorientation-90% of which are fatal. A study conducted concerning spatial disorientation concluded that "if a pilot flies long enough, there is no chance that he/she will escape experiencing at least one episode of spatial disorientation".

Representative | AOPA

In other words, pilots can be categorized into two:

those who have been disorientated, and those who will be

So, what is spatial disorientation?

Spatial disorientation

Representative | ETC Aircrew Training Systems

The inability of a person (or an aviator in this case), to determine his/her true body position, motion, and altitude relative to the earth or his surroundings is defined as "spatial disorientation".

Genetically, we humans are designed to maintain spatial orientation on the ground. The three-dimensional environment of flight, which is unfamiliar to the human body, creates sensory conflicts and illusions that complicate spatial orientation, and are sometimes difficult to achieve.

Banks and turns often create false sensations and these illusions can lure pilots into making poor decisions or improper control inputs.

Types of spatial disorientation

Disorientation experienced in space may be broadly divided into the following six:

1. "The Leans"

Code 7700

This is generally caused by level flight after a rapid roll- wherein the inertia of the roll causes the body to lean in a direction opposite to the direction of turning even after the motion of the roll has been stopped. The best way to prevent such an effect would be to avoid super-slow turns in the clouds.

2. Coriolis illusion

Code 7700

This happens when the pilot rapidly looks downward while turning. The plane feels as though it is descending and hence the immediate reaction of the pilot is to pull back on the stick to raise the plane.

When the fluid in the ears stops moving, our brain is tricked into thinking the flight is 'straight-and-level', while it may not. This can lead to performing dangerous manoeuvres, like putting the plane in a dangerous attitude.

This can often be prevented by focussing on instrument scan patterns and thereby bringing the airplane back to straight-and-level flight.

3. The Graveyard Spiral and Graveyard Spin

Representative | The Aerobatics School

The cause of both can be attributed to the acclimation of the semicircular canals to prolonged rotation.

If a "spin" is continued long enough, it creates an illusion of non-motion. Hence when the pilot corrects the spin, he has the feeling of spinning in the opposite direction, and his natural reaction is to counter his corrective measures and go back into the original spinning pattern. This phenomenon is known as the “graveyard spin.”

Losing the sensation of turning in a banked turn is what results in a “graveyard spiral”.

The pilot may not recognize the illusion before the aircraft loses too much altitude, resulting in a collision with terrain or the G-forces on the aircraft may exceed the structural strength of the airframe, resulting in catastrophic failure. The crash involving John F Kennedy Jr in 1999 is a prime example.

4. Somatogravic illusion


The tendency to incorrectly perceive acceleration as an increase in pitch attitude in the absence of visual references results in somatogravic illusion. This may lead pilots to instinctively make nose-down inputs even if the aircraft is flying level. The opposite holds for rapid deceleration as well.

This may be typically prevented by avoiding rapid acceleration and deceleration in the clouds.

5. Inversion illusion

Representative | Aero Corner

This involves a steep ascent (forward linear acceleration) in a high-performance aircraft, followedby a sudden return to level flight. When the pilot levels off, the aircraft’s speed is relatively higher. This combination of accelerations produces an illusion that the aircraft is in an inverted flight. Naturally, the pilot's instinctive response is to then lower the nose of the aircraft.

6. Elevator illusion

Representative | Code 7700

Elevator illusion happens when an updraft is hit, causing an abrupt upward vertical acceleration. This can stimulate the otolith organs to create the illusion of being on a climb resulting in the disoriented pilot pushing the aircraft into a nose-low attitude.

An abrupt downward vertical acceleration, usually in a downdraft, has the opposite effect, with the disoriented pilot pulling the aircraft into a nose-up attitude.

How to prevent spatial disorientation?

Thorough training and instrumentation are the best measures that can prevent spatial disorientation, although the following may also help:

Flight instruments to be relied on at night, or with reduced visibilitySpatial disorientation(s) may be simulated and experienced in a Barany chair, a Vertigon, a GYRO or a Virtual Reality Spatial Disorientation DemonstratorVFR flights may be avoided when there is a possibility of getting trapped in deteriorating weatherIn the likely event of experiencing a visual illusion (most pilots do at one point or another), the focus is to be placed on instruments and all conflicting bodily signals are to be avoidedIf one of the flight crew experiences a visual illusion, the control of the aircraft may be transferred to the other crew member as two pilots seldom experience visual illusions at the same time

A GH-200 Spatial Disorientation Trainer | ETC Aircrew Training Systems

Even with good visibility, misleading visual inputs such as sloping cloud decks, unfamiliar runway grades, or false horizons can also form optical illusions- resulting in the pilot misjudging the vertical orientation.


COVER: Aviation Oil Outlet

Read next

Parliamentary panel call for biometric screening methods at the airports to avoid long queues

Radhika Bansal

20 Apr 2022

After a two-year restriction due to the COVID pandemic, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has recently allowed 100% passengers capacity in domestic and international airports. But several airports in the country have reported long queues during peak hours of flight operations.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture submitted its reports in the parliament during just concluded the budget session and recommended non-intrusive screening entry inside the airports.

"The Committee during its deliberations with the Ministry has often pointed out that in a few of the airports, there are long passenger queues during peak hours. In view of the government guidelines for avoiding public gatherings in the context of the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic, more steps may be taken to resolve the issue. The Committee also notes that the Ministry proposes to increase the number of flights. The Committee observes that at most of the airports in the country, Door Frame Metal Detectors (DFMDs), Hand Held Metal Detectors (HHMDs) and physical frisking are done on a random basis.Biometric security is non-intrusive and faster than conventional screening, which leads to a faster screening of passengers and leads to less crowding at airports and is therefore being introduced in many airports abroad. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the global best practices for biometric scanning and screening of passengers should be introduced in the country."Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture

The Committee thinks that the present system of DFMD or HHMD, besides being obsolete technology, is intrusive on the privacy of passengers.

"In this context, the Committee recommends that in addition to steps taken to ease queues, the Ministry may also expedite its proposal for installation of Full-Body Scanners at airports, which would enhance the technology of frisking of passengers and lead to faster clearance of queues at frisking points. Besides, the number of frisking counters may also be increased at airports and adequately trained personnel should be posted to man these counters effectively," said the report.

Full-body scanners are requested at the airports

Given the increasing crowd at airports across the country, the parliamentary panel in its report suggested introducing biometric facilities and retinal scanners for the identification of passengers to avoid crowding.

"Ministry should explore the feasibility of biometric screening of passengers at airports, using tools such as facial recognition, fingerprint and retinal scans which are presently being used at many airports worldwide. The Committee desires that the Ministry may examine the feasibility of retinal scans for frisking passengers, as the retinal scan data of most of the domestic passengers are available in the Aadhaar database," the report said.

ALSO READ - Major Indian airports to get facial recognition system by March 2023

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia expressed confidence about India's aviation industry getting back to the normal pre-pandemic level.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on Monday, April 18 expressed confidence about India's aviation industry getting back to the normal pre-pandemic level. The aviation industry of India touched over four lakh domestic passengers in a day on Monday.

Terming the development as "historic" Mr Scindia, while speaking to ANI, said, "It was a very difficult time in the previous years due to the covid pandemic. We have seen over 3.7, 3.8 and 3.9 lakhs passengers in a day over the last 10 days. I'm confident that travelling--both domestically and internationally, in India is coming back strong."

Read next

IAF successfully test-fired a BrahMos missile from a Sukhoi fighter jet

Radhika Bansal

20 Apr 2022

In demonstrating its operational preparedness, the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Tuesday, April 19 successfully test-fired a BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from a Sukhoi fighter jet on the Eastern seaboard.

The "live firing" of the missile was carried out in close coordination with the Indian Navy, the IAF said. The missile hit the target with accuracy and precision, officials said.


"Today on the Eastern seaboard, #IAF undertook live firing of #BrahMos missile from a Su30 MkI aircraft. The missile achieved a direct hit on the target, a decommissioned #IndianNavy ship. The mission was undertaken in close coordination with @indiannavy," the IAF said in a tweet.

In 2016, the government had decided to integrate the air-launched variant of the Brahmos into over 40 Sukhoi fighter jets. The project was conceived to enhance the IAF's capability to strike from large stand-off ranges on any target on sea or land.

On March 5, the Indian Navy successfully test-fired an advanced version of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile from a stealth destroyer in the Indian Ocean. The missile was test-fired from the stealth destroyer INS Chennai.


BrahMos Aerospace, an India-Russian joint venture, produces supersonic cruise missiles that can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, or land platforms.

BrahMos missile flies at a speed of 2.8 Mach or almost three times the speed of sound. The range of the advanced version of the missile is learnt to have been extended to around 350 km from the original 290 km.

The BrahMos (also designated as PJ-10) is a medium-range stealthy ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft or land. It is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world.

BrahMos missile flies at a speed of 2.8 Mach or almost three times the speed of sound.

It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation's NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), who together have formed BrahMos Aerospace. It is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. The name BrahMos is a portmanteau formed from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.

The company was established on 12 February 1998 with an authorised share capital of USD 250 million. India holds a 50.5% share of the joint venture and its initial financial contribution was USD 126.25 million, while Russia holds a 49.5% share with an initial contribution of USD 123.75 million.

Read next

Tamil Nadu plans to develop an airport in Hosur's industrial belt

Radhika Bansal

20 Apr 2022

The Tamil Nadu government has planned to develop a new airport in the industrial belt of Hosur (in Krishnagiri district and located about 40 km from Bengaluru), and a study on air traffic and other aspects has been ordered, state Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu said on Tuesday, April 19.

The Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (TIDCO) has been directed to undertake a study on the air traffic and its growth in surrounding regions, market demand and potential sites for developing an airport in Hosur, which is one of the industrial hubs in the state, he said. TIDCO is in the process of selecting a consultant for undertaking the study.

"Considering the industrial growth, regional economic growth, tourism, per capita income growth rate in the northwest region of Tamil Nadu and interest of the travelling public, the government intends to develop a new airport in this region," a policy note on industries department tabled in the Assembly, said.

Tamil Nadu plans to develop an airport in Hosur's industrial belt

On the proposed new airport at Neyveli, the note said infrastructure facilities for flight operations (at Neyveli airport) are ready and that licence from the Director General of Civil Aviation is awaited. "Flight operations will commence thereafter," the note added.

TIDCO will establish an Aero Hub as part of the Tamil Nadu Defence Industrial Corridor within the Aerospace Park in Sriperumbudur.

This project will be implemented in two phases. Phase-1 will be implemented by TIDEL Chennai with a built-up space of 3.5 lakh sq. ft. for INR 230 crore and will be completed by February 2023.

On Chief Minister M K Stalin's ambitious target of making Tamil Nadu a USD 1 trillion economy by the 2030-31 fiscal, the note said this can be achieved only if the manufacturing sector takes the centre stage for economic development.

TIDCO will establish an Aero Hub as part of the Tamil Nadu Defence Industrial Corridor within the Aerospace Park in Sriperumbudur.

"Tamil Nadu is recognised for its well-developed manufacturing eco-system and the state is on track to ensure this sector grows from USD 48.1 billion in 2020-21 fiscal (18% of GSDP) to USD 250 billion in 2030-31 fiscal (25% of GSDP)," the note said.

Steps are on to attract approximately INR 23 lakh crore of investment in the manufacturing sector and for the creation of employment opportunities for 46 lakh people, which are necessary to achieve its growth target, it further stated.

Also, a sharp focus on the logistics sector is essential to strengthen the competitive advantage of the state and to propel it to a high growth path for realising the USD 1 trillion economy target.

This will accommodate both domestic and overseas financial institutions.

Hence, the state Logistics Policy will focus on the key elements like regulatory framework; interconnected infrastructure; digital transformation; training and skill development in the state.

The objective of the Logistics Policy is to facilitate and develop an integrated logistics ecosystem in Tamil Nadu, to enhance competitiveness, operational efficiency and sustainability through innovation, skilled manpower, quality and disruptive technologies; thereby strengthening Tamil Nadu's position as the most preferred destination for trade and commerce.

A Fintech City will be developed by TIDCO on around 122.69 acres of land in Nandambakkam here, to make Chennai a global financial centre. This will accommodate both domestic and overseas financial institutions.

The feasibility report for the project has been completed and the state government has granted entry upon permission to TIDCO for 61.09 acres of land in Nandambakkam and transferred the land to TIDCO for establishing the Fintech City project.

It has also been proposed to establish a Fintech Tower of international standards, with a built-up area of 5 lakh sq. ft as part of Fintech City for Fintech companies to establish their operations.

Further, to develop a startup ecosystem in the state, it is proposed to create a Startup Hub, an iconic structure in the Fintech city to provide space to startups. A detailed master plan for this project is being prepared.

TIDEL will set up Mini IT Parks (TIDEL Neo) of 50,000 to 1,00,000 sq.ft. in Tier-2 & Tier-3 urban centres of Tamil Nadu.

TIDCO is in the process of selecting a Project Management Consultant for this project. TIDEL will set up Mini IT Parks (TIDEL Neo) of 50,000 to 1,00,000 sq.ft. in Tier-2 & Tier-3 urban centres of Tamil Nadu. The government will provide land for the development of these TIDEL Neo Parks.

TIDCO will represent the government of Tamil Nadu in the SPV. In the first phase, it is proposed to set up TIDEL Neo Parks in Villupuram, Thoothukudi, Vellore, Tirupur and Salem districts and other districts in subsequent phases.

In Villupuram, Thoothukudi, Tiruppur and Salem, suitable land parcels have been identified and Project Management Consultants have been appointed.

Read next

Akasa Air announced "QP" as its airline code

Radhika Bansal

18 May 2022

Akasa Air, which is planning to start its commercial flight operations in July, on Tuesday, May 17 announced its airline code - "QP".

ALSO READ - Flight operations of Akasa Air pushed to July

Every airline in the world has a designator code. For example, IndiGo's code is "6E", Go First's is "G8" and Air India's is "AI".

Akasa Air announced "QP" as its airline code

IATA airline designators, sometimes called IATA reservation codes, are two-character codes assigned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to the world's airlines.

The standard is described in IATA's Standard Schedules Information Manual and the codes themselves are described in IATA's Airline Coding Directory.

The IATA codes were originally based on the ICAO designators which were issued in 1947 as two-letter airline identification codes (see the section below).

Akasa Air is backed by ace investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and aviation veterans Vinay Dube and Aditya Ghosh

IATA expanded the two-character system with codes consisting of a letter and a digit (or vice versa) e.g. EasyJet's U2 after ICAO had introduced its current three-letter-system in 1982. Until then only combinations of letters were used.

Akasa Air said on Twitter, "Quite Proud to announce our airline code - QP!"

ALOS READ – Jhunjhunwala’s Akasa has received NOC, find out what will happen next

The airline, which is backed by ace investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and aviation veterans Vinay Dube and Aditya Ghosh, received the no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Ministry of Civil Aviation in August 2021 to launch commercial flight operations.


ALSO READ – Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’s Akasa Air signs deal for 72 Boeing 737 Max planes

With the Directorate General of Civil Aviation giving the green light to Boeing 737 Max aircraft in late August 2021, Akasa Air signed a deal with Boeing on November 26, 2021, to purchase 72 Max planes.

India's aviation sector has been growing quickly, with more and more people opting for air travel. The traffic on airlines has almost reached pre-pandemic levels due to a drop in COVID-19 cases.

Aviation consultancy firm CAPA said in November 2021 that the disruption in the Indian aviation sector due to Akasa Air will possibly be felt from 2024-25 onwards "once it has the scale and achieves a competitive cost base".

Read next

Majority of major US airlines drop mask mandate after court ruling

Radhika Bansal

19 Apr 2022

The Biden administration will no longer enforce a US mask mandate on public transportation, after a federal judge in Florida on Monday, April 18 ruled that the 14-month-old directive was unlawful, overturning a key White House effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Soon after the announcement, all major carriers including American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, as well as national train line Amtrak relaxed the restrictions effective immediately.

Last week, U.S. health officials had extended the mandate to May 3 requiring travellers to wear masks on airplanes, trains, and in taxis, ride-share vehicles or transit hubs, saying they needed time to assess the impact of a recent rise in COVID-19 cases caused by the airborne coronavirus.

The majority of major US airlines drop mask mandate after court ruling

Industry groups and Republican lawmakers baulked and wanted the administration to end the 14-month-old mask mandate permanently.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, an appointee of President Donald Trump, came in a lawsuit filed last year in Tampa, Florida, by a group called the Health Freedom Defense Fund. It follows a string of rulings against Biden administration directives to fight the infectious disease that has killed nearly one million Americans, including vaccine or test mandates for employers.

Judge Mizelle said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had exceeded its authority with the mandate, had not sought public comment and did not adequately explain its decisions.

A U.S. administration official said while the agencies were assessing potential next steps, the court's decision meant CDC's public transportation masking order was no longer in effect. The administration could still opt to appeal the order or seek an emergency delay in the order's enforcement.

"Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time," the official said in a statement. "CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings."

The Transportation Security Administration said it will rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect on Tuesday, April 19.

The ruling comes as COVID-19 infections rise again in the United States, with 36,251 new infections reported on average each day, and 460 daily deaths, based on a seven-day average - the highest number of reported total COVID-19 deaths in the world.

United Airlines, American, Delta, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines said masks are now optional on their planes.

The White House called the ruling "disappointing." The CDC first issued a public health order requiring masks in interstate transportation in February 2021. The TSA issued a security directive to enforce the CDC order.

United Airlines, American, Delta, Southwest Airlines (LUV.N), JetBlue (JBLU.O) and Alaska Airlines (ALK.N) said masks are now optional on their planes.

"We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus," Delta said. The World Health Organization warned against comparing the virus to an endemic illness like the flu earlier this year, noting it is evolving too quickly.

The move could impact travel demand, which has roared back after a blip caused by the Omicron coronavirus variant. U.S. passenger traffic has been averaging about 89% of the pre-pandemic levels since mid-February, according to TSA data.

With the COVID-19 case count rising again, lifting the mandate could make some passengers wary while prompting others to fly again.

Only 36% of Americans think it's time for people to stop using masks and quarantines so that life can get back to normal after COVID-19, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted between January 31 and February 7.

Only 36% of Americans think it's time for people to stop using masks and quarantines so that life can get back to normal after COVID-19

However, while a mere 16% of Democrats hold this view, a whopping 60% of Republicans do, according to the poll. Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian last week acknowledged the risk but said the airline still expected its flights to be full.

"It's a question of individual accountability, personal accountability, making your own decisions rather than the government making decisions for people as to how to stay well," Bastian told Reuters in an interview.

On Monday, April 18 Delta asked its employees to show "understanding and patience" as the unexpected nature of the announcement could result in "inconsistent" enforcement.

Thousands of passengers have been put on "no-fly" lists for refusing to comply with masking requirements.

Since January 2021, there have been a record 7,060 unruly passenger incidents reported, 70% involving masking rules, according to the FAA. Thousands of passengers have been put on "no-fly" lists for refusing to comply with masking requirements.

Alaska said some passengers will remain banned, even after the mask policy is rescinded.

Masks continue to be mandatory for airports and flights in India

As people in India seem to be ditching the mask these days, a statement comes from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) regarding mask mandates at airports. Arun Kumar, Director General of Civil Aviation said that it is still recommended to wear a mask during air travel in India.

People may not be wearing masks in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, but it is still important to carry masks when at airports and taking flights in the country.

Masks continue to be mandatory for airports and flights in India

In March 2021, the DGCA had said that passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights, will be deboarded, and considered unruly. This rule continues to apply, so if you are travelling, it is best to wear masks, use sanitiser, and continue to practise social distancing. COVID appropriate behaviour is still the order of the day.

Maharashtra has however lifted the mask mandate in the state, so people are not required to wear it in the public. There has been a gradual decrease in active cases and deaths from COVID 19.

So, you do not have to wear masks at weddings, gyms, hotels, and buses in the state. Delhi too has decided not to penalise people who are not wearing masks in the public. However, that is not the case for airports in Delhi and Mumbai, or anywhere else in the country.