Thursday, March 13, 2008


There are many different types of visual illusions that commonly occur at night. Anticipating and staying aware of them is usually the best way to avoid them.

Autokinesis is caused by staring at a single point of light against a dark background for more than a few seconds. After a few moments, the light appears to move on its own. To prevent this illusion, focus the eyes on objects at varying distances and avoid fixating on one target. Be sure to maintain a normal scan pattern.

A false horizon can occur when the natural horizon is obscured or not readily apparent. It can be generated by confusing bright stars and city lights. It can also occur while flying toward the shore of an ocean or a large lake. Because of the relative darkness of the water, the lights along the shoreline can be mistaken for stars in the sky.

Landing illusions occur in many forms. Above featureless terrain at night, there is a natural tendency to fly a lower-than-normal approach. Elements that cause any type of visual obscuration, such as rain, haze, or a dark runway environment also can cause low approaches. Bright lights, steep surrounding terrain, and a wide runway can produce the illusion of being too low, with a tendency to fly a higher-than-normal approach.

Often a set of regularly spaced lights along a road or highway can appear to be runway lights. Pilots have even mistaken the lights on moving trains as runway or approach lights. Bright runway or approach lighting systems can create the illusion that the airplane is closer to the runway, especially where few lights illuminate the surrounding terrain.

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