Monday, March 24, 2008


It is important to point out the fact that being familiar with the decision-making process does not ensure the good judgment to be a safe pilot. The ability to make effective decisions as pilot in command depends on a number of factors. Some circumstances, such as the time available to make a decision may be beyond a pilot's control. However, one can learn to recognize those factors that can be managed, and learn skills to improve decision-making ability and judgment.

The pilot in command of an airplane is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that airplane. To effectively exercise that responsibility and make effective decisions regarding the outcome of a flight, a pilot should be aware of personal limitations. Performance during a flight is affected by many factors, such as health, recency of experience, knowledge, skill level, and attitude.

Exercising good judgment begins prior to taking the controls of an airplane. Often, pilots thoroughly check their airplane to determine airworthiness, yet do not evaluate their own fitness for flight. Just as a checklist is used when preflighting an airplane, a personal checklist based on such factors as experience, currency, and comfort level can help determine if a pilot is prepared for a particular flight. Specifying when refresher training should be accomplished and designating weather minimums that may be higher than those listed in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 are elements that may be included on a personal checklist.

In addition to a review of personal limitations, use the I'M SAFE Checklist to further evaluate fitness for flight.

Being fit to fly depends on more than just a pilot's physical condition and recency of experience. For example, attitude will affect the quality of decisions. Attitude can be defined as a personal motivational predisposition to respond to persons, situations, or events in a given manner. Studies have identified five hazardous attitudes that can interfere with the ability to make sound decisions and exercise authority properly.

Hazardous attitudes can lead to poor decision making and actions that involve unnecessary risk. The pilot must examine decisions carefully to ensure that the choices have not been influenced by hazardous attitudes and be familiar with positive alternatives to counteract the hazardous attitudes. These substitute attitudes are referred to as antidotes. During a flight operation, it is important to be able to recognize a hazardous attitude, correctly label the thought, and then recall its antidote.

Everyone is stressed to some degree almost all the time. A certain amount of stress is good since it keeps a person alert and prevents complacency. However, effects of stress are cumulative and, if not coped with adequately, they eventually add up to an intolerable burden. Performance generally increases with the onset of stress, peaks, and then begins to fall off rapidly as stress levels exceed a person's ability to cope.

The ability to make effective decisions during flight can be impaired by stress. Factors, referred to as stressors, can increase a pilot's risk of error in the cockpit.

There are several techniques to help manage the accumulation of life stresses and prevent stress overload. For example, including relaxation time in a busy schedule and maintaining a program of physical fitness can help reduce stress levels. Learning to manage time more effectively can help avoid heavy pressures imposed by getting behind schedule and not meeting deadlines.

Take a self-assessment to determine capabilities and limitations and then set realistic goals. In addition, avoiding stressful situations and encounters can help to cope with stress.


Examining National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports and other accident research can help assess risk more effectively. For example, the accident rate during night VFR decreases by nearly 50 percent once a pilot obtains 100 hours, and continues to decrease until the 1,000-hour level. The data suggest that for the first 500 hours, pilots flying VFR at night might want to establish higher personal limitations than are required by the regulations and, if applicable, apply instrument flying skills in this environment.

Studies also indicate the types of flight activities that are likely to result in the most serious accidents. The majority of fatal general aviation accidents fall under the categories of takeoff/initial climb, maneuvering flight, approaches, and weather. Delving deeper into accident statistics can provide some important details that can help in understanding the risks involved with specific flying situations. For example, maneuvering flight is one of the largest single producers of fatal accidents. In the approach phase, fatal accidents often happen at night or in IFR conditions. Takeoff/initial climb accidents frequently are due to the pilot's lack of awareness of the effects of density altitude on airplane performance or other improper takeoff planning resulting in loss of control during, or shortly after takeoff. The majority of weather-related accidents occur after attempted VFR flight into IFR conditions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


During each flight, decisions must be made regarding events involving interactions between the four risk elements—the pilot in command, the airplane, the environment, and the operation. The decision-making process involves an evaluation of each of these risk elements to achieve an accurate perception of the flight situation.

One of the most important decisions that a pilot in command must make is the go/no-go decision. Evaluating each of these risk elements can help in deciding whether a flight should be conducted or continued.

Below is a review of the four risk elements and how they affect decision making regarding the following situations.

Pilot—A pilot must continually make decisions about competency, condition of health, mental and emotional state, level of fatigue, and many other variables. For example, a pilot may be called early in the morning to make a long flight. If a pilot has had only a few hours of sleep and is concerned that the congestion being experienced could be the onset of a cold, it would be prudent to consider if the flight could be accomplished safely.

A pilot had only 4 hours of sleep the night before. The boss then asked the pilot to fly to a meeting in a city 750 miles away. The reported weather was marginal and not expected to improve. After assessing fitness as a pilot, it was decided that it would not be wise to make the flight. The boss was initially unhappy, but later convinced by the pilot that the risks involved were unacceptable.

Airplane—A pilot will frequently base decisions on the evaluations of the airplane, such as performance, equipment, or airworthiness.

During a preflight, a pilot noticed a small amount of oil dripping from the bottom of the cowling. Although the quantity of oil seemed insignificant at the time, the pilot decided to delay the takeoff and have a mechanic check the source of the oil. The pilot's good judgment was confirmed when the mechanic found that one of the oil cooler hose fittings was loose.

Environment—This encompasses many elements not pilot or airplane related. It can include such factors as weather, air traffic control, navaids, terrain, takeoff and landing areas, and surrounding obstacles. Weather is one element that can change drastically over time and distance.

A pilot was landing a small airplane just after a heavy jet had departed a parallel runway. The pilot assumed that wake turbulence would not be a problem since landings had been performed under similar circumstances. Due to a combination of prevailing winds and wake turbulence from the heavy jet drifting across the landing runway, the airplane made a hard landing. The pilot made an error when assessing the flight environment.

Operation—The interaction between the pilot, airplane, and the environment is greatly influenced by the purpose of each flight operation. The pilot must evaluate the three previous areas to decide on the desirability of undertaking or continuing the flight as planned. It is worth asking why the flight is being made, how critical is it to maintain the schedule, and is the trip worth the risks?

On a ferry flight to deliver an airplane from the factory, in marginal weather conditions, the pilot calculated the groundspeed and determined that the airplane would arrive at the destination with only 10 minutes of fuel remaining. The pilot was determined to keep on schedule by trying to "stretch" the fuel supply instead of landing to refuel. After landing with low fuel state, the pilot realized that this could have easily resulted in an emergency landing in deteriorating weather conditions. This was a chance that was not worth taking to keep the planned schedule.


Although a decision may be reached and a course of action implemented, the decision-making process is not complete. It is important to think ahead and determine how the decision could affect other phases of the flight.

As the flight progresses, the pilot must continue to evaluate the outcome of the decision to ensure that it is producing the desired result.

To implement the decision, the pilot determines the necessary course changes and calculates a new estimated time of arrival, as well as contacts the nearest flight service station to amend the flight plan and check weather conditions at the fuel stop. Proceeding to the airport, continue to monitor the groundspeed, fuel status, and the weather conditions to ensure that no additional steps need to be taken to guarantee the safety of the flight.

The decision-making process normally consists of several steps before choosing a course of action. To help remember the elements of the decision-making process, a six-step model has been developed using the acronym "DECIDE."

Detect the fact that a change has occurred.
Estimate the need to counter or react to the change.
Choose a desirable outcome for the success of the flight.
Identify actions, which could successfully control the change.
Do the necessary action to adapt to the change.
Evaluate the effect of the action.

Monday, March 17, 2008


AERONAUTICAL DECISION MAKING (ADM) is a systematic approach to the mental process used by pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances.

ATTITUDE is a personal motivational predisposition to respond to persons, situations, or events in a given manner that can, nevertheless, be changed or modified through training as sort of a mental shortcut to decision making.

ATTITUDE MANAGEMENT is the ability to recognize hazardous attitudes in oneself and the willingness to modify them as necessary through the application of an appropriate antidote thought.

HEADWORK is required to accomplish a conscious, rational thought process when making decisions. Good decision making involves risk identification and assessment, information processing, and problem solving.

JUDGMENT is the mental process of recognizing and analyzing all pertinent information in a particular situation, a rational evaluation of alternative actions in response to it, and a timely decision on which action to take.

PERSONALITY is the embodiment of personal traits and characteristics of an individual that are set at a very early age and extremely resistant to change.

POOR JUDGMENT CHAIN is a series of mistakes that may lead to an accident or incident. Two basic principles generally associated with the creation of a poor judgment chain are: (1) One bad decision often leads to another; and (2) as a string of bad decisions grows, it reduces the number of subsequent alternatives for continued safe flight. ADM is intended to break the poor judgment chain before it can cause an accident or incident.

RISK ELEMENTS IN ADM take into consideration the four fundamental risk elements: the pilot, the aircraft, the environment, and the type of operation that comprise any given aviation situation.

RISK MANAGEMENT is the part of the decision making process that relies on situational awareness, problem recognition, and good judgment to reduce risks associated with each flight.

SITUATIONAL AWARENESS is the accurate perception and understanding of all the factors and conditions within the four fundamental risk elements that affect safety before, during, and after the flight.

SKILLS and PROCEDURES are the procedural, psychomotor, and perceptual skills used to control a specific aircraft or its systems. They are the airmanship abilities that are gained through conventional training, are perfected, and become almost automatic through experience.

STRESS MANAGEMENT is the personal analysis of the kinds of stress experienced while flying, the application of appropriate stress assessment tools, and other coping mechanisms.

CREW RESOURCE MANAGEMENT (CRM) is the application of team management concepts in the flight deck environment. It was initially known as cockpit resource management, but as CRM programs evolved to include cabin crews, maintenance personnel, and others, the phrase crew resource management was adopted. This includes single pilots, as in most general aviation aircraft. Pilots of small aircraft, as well as crews of larger aircraft, must make effective use of all available resources; human resources, hardware, and information. A current definition includes all groups routinely working with the cockpit crew who are involved in decisions required to operate a flight safely. These groups include, but are not limited to: pilots, dispatchers, cabin crewmembers, maintenance personnel, and air traffic controllers. CRM is one way of addressing the challenge of optimizing the human/machine interface and accompanying interpersonal activities.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


An understanding of the decision-making process provides a pilot with a foundation for developing ADM skills. Some situations, such as engine failures, require a pilot to respond immediately using established procedures with little time for detailed analysis. Traditionally, pilots have been well trained to react to emergencies, but are not as well prepared to make decisions requiring a more reflective response. Typically during a flight, there is time to examine any changes that occur, gather information, and assess risk before reaching a decision. The steps leading to this conclusion constitute the decision-making process.

Problem definition is the first step in the decision-making process. Defining the problem begins with
recognizing that a change has occurred or that an expected change did not occur. A problem is perceived first by the senses, then is distinguished through insight and experience. These same abilities, as well as an objective analysis of all available information, are used to determine the exact nature and severity of the problem.

One critical error that can be made during the decision-making process is incorrectly defining the problem. For example, a low oil pressure reading could indicate that the engine is about to fail and an emergency landing should be planned, or it could mean that the oil pressure sensor has failed. The actions to be taken in each of these circumstances would be significantly different. Fixating on a problem that does not exist can divert attention from important tasks. The pilot's failure to maintain an awareness of the circumstances regarding the flight now becomes the problem. This is why once an initial assumption is made regarding the problem, other sources must be used to verify that the conclusion is correct.

While on a cross-country flight, a pilot discovered that fuel consumption was significantly higher than predicted during flight planning. By noticing this discrepancy, change has been recognized. Based on insight, cross-country flying experience, and knowledge of airplane systems, the pilot considers the possibility that there might be enough fuel to reach the destination. Factors that may increase the fuel burn rate could include environmental factors, such as higher-than-expected headwinds and lower-than-expected groundspeed. To determine the severity of the problem, recalculate the fuel consumption and reassess fuel requirements.

After the problem has been identified, the pilot must evaluate the need to react to it and determine the actions that may be taken to resolve the situation in the time available. The expected outcome of each possible action should be considered and the risks assessed before deciding on a response to the situation.

The pilot determines there is insufficient fuel to reach the destination, and considers other options, such as turning around and landing at a nearby airport that has been passed, diverting off course, or landing prior to the destination at an airport on the route. The expected outcome of each possible action must be considered along with an assessment of the risks involved. After studying the aeronautical chart, the pilot concludes that there is an airport that has fueling services within the remaining fuel range along the route. The time expended for the extra fuel stop is a worthwhile investment to ensure a safe completion of the flight

ORIGINS OF ADM -Aeronautical Decision Making- TRAINING

The airlines developed some of the first training programs that focused on improving aeronautical decision making. Human factors-related accidents motivated the airline industry to implement crew resource management (CRM) training for flight crews. The focus of CRM -crew resource management- programs is the effective use of all available resources; human resources, hardware, and information. Human resources include all groups routinely working with the cockpit crew (or pilot) who are involved in decisions that are required to operate a flight safely. These groups include, but are not limited to: dispatchers, cabin crewmembers, maintenance personnel, and air traffic controllers. Although the crew resource management -CRM- concept originated as airlines developed ways of facilitating crew cooperation to improve decision making in the cockpit, CRM -crew resource management- principles, such as workload management, situational awareness, communication, the leadership role of the captain, and crewmember coordination have direct application to the general aviation cockpit. This also includes single pilot operations since pilots of small airplanes, as well as crews of larger airplanes, must make effective use of all available resources—human resources, hardware, and information. AC 60-22, Aeronautical Decision-Making, provides background references, definitions, and other pertinent information about ADM - Aeronautical Decision Making- training in the general aviation environment.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Aeronautical Decision Making

Aeronautical decision making (ADM) is a systematic approach to the mental process used by airplane pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances. The importance of learning effective ADM skills cannot be overemphasized. While progress is continually being made in the advancement of pilot training methods, airplane equipment and systems, and services for pilots, accidents still occur. Despite all the changes in technology to improve flight safety, one factor remains the same.the human factor. It is estimated that approximately 75 percent of all aviation accidents are human factors related.

Historically, the term "pilot error" has been used to describe the causes of these accidents. Pilot error means that an action or decision made by the pilot was the cause, or a contributing factor that led to the accident.

This definition also includes the pilot's failure to make a decision or take action. From a broader perspective, the phrase "human factors related" more aptly describes these accidents since it is usually not a single decision that leads to an accident, but a chain of events triggered by a number of factors.
The poor judgment chain, sometimes referred to as the "error chain," is a term used to describe this concept of contributing factors in a human factors-related accident.

Breaking one link in the chain normally is all that is necessary to change the outcome of the sequence of events. The following is an example illustrating the poor judgment chain.

A private pilot with around 350 hours was ferrying an airplane cross-country to a new owner. Due to time constraints, the pilot skipped dinner the night before and had no breakfast on the morning of the flight. The pilot planned to have lunch around noon at a fuel stop. A descent was begun from 9,500 feet, about 20 miles from the chosen fuel stop, due to haze and unfamiliarity with the area. When the airplane arrived at pattern altitude, the pilot could not find the airport. The pilot then circled north of the town, then back over the town, then flew to the west, then turned back to the east. The pilot decided to check for airport information in the Airport/Facility Directory, which was on the rear seat and not readily available.

Power had not been increased since the descent to pattern altitude, and the pilot had been holding back pressure on the yoke. While attempting to retrieve the Airport/Facility Directory, a loud "bang" was heard. Looking up, the pilot discovered the airplane was only about 200 feet above ground level. Increasing power, the pilot climbed and located the airport. After landing, it was discovered a fiberglass antenna had been hit, which damaged the leading edge of the left wing.

By discussing the events that led to this accident, it can be understood how a series of judgmental errors contributed to the final outcome of this flight. For example, one of the first elements that affected the pilot's flight was fatigue. The pilot understood that fatigue and hunger could affect the ability to fly safely, but let the desire to stay on schedule override the concern for a safe flight. Next, the rush to get airborne led the pilot to skip or postpone necessary aspects of preflight planning. Research before takeoff, with a quick review before descent, could have ensured a clear mental picture of the location of the airport in relation to the town. Copying relevant information from flight guides and other information sources is part of careful preflight planning. Studying the aeronautical charts and checking the Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) beforehand would have alerted the pilot to towers, terrain, and other obstructions in the vicinity of the airport.

Even without proper planning before the flight, good cockpit resource management and organization would have had the flight guide and any other necessary information near at hand, perhaps with the relevant pages flagged. Approaching the airport environment and flying around the area at traffic pattern altitude in hazy conditions could have interfered with other air traffic, and the potential for a midair collision is obvious.

In all circumstances, the pilot's first duty is to fly the airplane. Clearly that would include adjusting the power, setting the trim, and keeping track of altitude. This pilot was extremely fortunate—the outcome could easily have been fatal.

On numerous occasions during the flight, the pilot could have made effective decisions that would have broken the chain of error and prevented this accident. Making sound decisions is the key to preventing accidents.

Traditional pilot training has emphasized flying skills, knowledge of the airplane, and familiarity with regulations. ADM training focuses on the decision-making process and the factors that affect a pilot's ability to make effective choices.


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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It is estimated that once fully adapted to darkness, the rods are 10,000 times more sensitive to light than the cones, making them the primary receptors for night vision. Since the cones are concentrated near the fovea, the rods are also responsible for much of the peripheral vision. The concentration of cones in the fovea can make a night blind spot in the center of the field of vision. To see an object clearly at night, the pilot must expose the rods to the image. This can be done by looking 5° to 10° off center of the object to be seen. This can be tried in a dim light in a darkened room. When looking directly at the light, it dims or disappears altogether. When looking slightly off center, it becomes clearer and brighter.

When looking directly at an object, the image is focused mainly on the fovea, where detail is best seen. At night, the ability to see an object in the center of the visual field is reduced as the cones lose much of their visual acuity and the rods become more sensitive. Looking off center can help compensate for this night blind spot. Along with the loss of sharpness and color at night, depth perception and judgment of size may be lost.

While the cones adapt rapidly to changes in light intensities, the rods take much longer. Walking from bright sunlight into a dark movie theater is an example of this dark adaptation period experience. The rods can take approximately 30 minutes to fully adapt to the dark. A bright light, however, can completely destroy night adaptation, leaving night vision severely compromised while the adaptation process is repeated.

Several things can be done to keep the eyes adapted to the dark. The first is obvious: avoid bright lights before and during the flight. For 30 minutes before a night flight, avoid any bright light sources, such as headlights, landing lights, strobe lights, or flashlights. If a bright light is encountered, close one eye to keep it light sensitive. This allows the use of that eye to see again once the light is gone. Red cockpit lighting also helps preserve night vision, but red light severely distorts some colors and completely washes out the color red. This makes reading an aeronautical chart difficult. A dim white light or a carefully directed flashlight can enhance night reading ability.

While flying at night, keep the instrument panel and interior lights turned up no higher than necessary. This helps to see outside references more easily. If the eyes become blurry, blinking more frequently often helps.

Diet and general physical health have an impact on how well a pilot can see in the dark. Deficiencies in vitamins A and C have been shown to reduce night acuity. Other factors, such as carbon monoxide poisoning, smoking, alcohol, certain drugs, and a lack of oxygen also can greatly decrease night vision.


Of all the senses, vision is the most important for safe flight. Most of the things perceived while flying are visual or heavily supplemented by vision. As remarkable and vital as it is, vision is subject to some limitations, such as illusions and blind spots. The more a pilot understands about the eyes and how they function, the easier it is to use vision effectively and compensate for potential problems.

The functions of eye much like a camera. Its structure includes an aperture, a lens, a mechanism for focusing, and a surface for registering images. Light enters through the cornea at the front of the eyeball, travels through the lens and falls on the retina. The retina contains light sensitive cells that convert light energy into electrical impulses that travel through nerves to the brain. The brain interprets the electrical signals to form images. There are two kinds of light sensitive cells in the eyes: rods and cones.

The cones are responsible for all color vision, from appreciating a glorious sunset to discerning the subtle shades in a fine painting. Cones are present throughout the retina, but are concentrated toward the center of the field of vision at the back of the retina. There is a small pit called the fovea where almost all the light sensing cells are cones. This is the area where most "looking" occurs (the center of the visual field where detail, color sensitivity, and resolution are highest).

While the cones and their associated nerves are well suited to detecting fine detail and color in high light levels, the rods are better able to detect movement and provide vision in dim light. The rods are unable to discern color but are very sensitive in low light levels. The trouble with rods is that a large amount of light overwhelms them, and they take a long time to "reset" and adapt to the dark again. There are so many cones in the fovea that the very center of the visual field hardly has any rods at all. So in low light, the middle of the visual field isn't very sensitive, but farther from the fovea, the rods are more numerous and provide the major portion of night vision.

The area where the optic nerve enters the eyeball has no rods or cones, leaving a blind spot in the field of vision. Normally, each eye compensates for the other's blind spot.

Another problem associated with flying at night, in instrument meteorological conditions and/or reduced visibility is empty-field myopia, or induced near sightedness. With nothing to focus on, the eyes automatically focus on a point just slightly ahead of the airplane. Searching out and focusing on distant light sources, no matter how dim, helps prevent the onset of empty-field myopia.


Scuba diving subjects the body to increased pressure, which allows more nitrogen to dissolve in body tissues and fluids. The reduction of atmospheric pressure that accompanies flying can produce physical problems for scuba divers. Reducing the pressure too quickly allows small bubbles of nitrogen to form inside the body as the gas comes out of solution. These bubbles can cause a painful and potentially incapacitating condition called "the bends." (An example is dissolved gas forming bubbles as pressure decreases by slowly opening a transparent bottle of soda.) Scuba training emphasizes how to prevent the bends when rising to the surface, but increased nitrogen concentrations can remain in tissue fluids for several hours after a diver leaves the water. The bends can be experienced from as low as 8,000 feet MSL, with increasing severity as altitude increases. As noted in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), the minimum recommended time between scuba diving on non-decompression stop dives and flying is 12 hours, while the minimum time recommended between decompression stop diving and flying is 24 hours.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Pilot performance can be seriously degraded by both prescribed and over-the-counter medications, as well as by the medical conditions for which they are taken. Many medications, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, strong pain relievers, and cough-suppressants have primary effects that may impair judgment, memory, alertness, coordination, vision, and the ability to make calculations. Others, such as antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, muscle relaxants, and agents to control diarrhea and motion sickness have side effects that may impair the same critical functions. Any medication that depresses the nervous system, such as a sedative, tranquilizer, or antihistamine can make a pilot more susceptible to hypoxia.

Pain-killers can be grouped into two broad categories: analgesics and anesthetics. Analgesics are drugs that reduce pain, while anesthetics are drugs that deaden pain or cause loss of consciousness. Over-the-counter analgesics, such as acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Advil) have few side effects when taken in the correct dosage. Although some people are allergic to certain analgesics or may suffer from stomach irritation, flying usually is not restricted when taking these drugs. However, flying is almost always precluded while using prescription analgesics, such as Darvon, Percodan, Demerol, and codeine since these drugs may cause side effects such as mental confusion, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vision problems.

Anesthetic drugs are commonly used for dental and surgical procedures. Most local anesthetics used for minor dental and outpatient procedures wear off within a relatively short period of time. The anesthetic itself may not limit flying so much as the actual procedure and subsequent pain. Stimulants are drugs that excite the central nervous system and produce an increase in alertness and activity. Amphetamines, caffeine, and nicotine are all forms of stimulants. Common uses of these drugs include appetite suppression, fatigue reduction, and mood elevation. Some of these drugs may cause a stimulant reaction, even though this reaction is not their primary function. In some cases, stimulants can produce anxiety and mood swings, both of which are dangerous when flying.  Depressants are drugs that reduce the body's functioning in many areas. These drugs lower blood pressure, reduce mental processing, and slow motor and reaction responses. There are several types of drugs that can cause a depressing effect on the body, including tranquilizers, motion sickness medication, some types of stomach medication, decongestants, and antihistamines. The most common depressant is alcohol.

Some drugs, which can neither be classified as stimulants nor depressants, have adverse effects on flying.

For example, some forms of antibiotics can produce dangerous side effects, such as balance disorders, hearing loss, nausea, and vomiting. While many antibiotics are safe for use while flying, the infection requiring the antibiotic may prohibit flying. In addition, unless specifically prescribed by a physician, do not take more than one drug at a time, and never mix drugs with alcohol, because the effects are often unpredictable.

The dangers of illegal drugs also are well documented. Certain illegal drugs can have a hallucinatory effect that occurs days or weeks after the drug is taken. Obviously, these drugs have no place in the aviation community.

The Code of Federal Regulations prohibits pilots from performing crewmember duties while using any medication that affects the faculties in any way contrary to safety. The safest rule is not to fly as a crewmember while taking any medication, unless approved to do so by the FAA. If there is any doubt regarding the effects of any medication, consult an aviation medical examiner before flying.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Alcohol impairs the efficiency of the human mechanism. Studies have positively proven that drinking and performance deterioration is closely linked. Pilots must make hundreds of decisions, some of them time-critical, during the course of a flight. The safe outcome of any flight depends on the ability to make the correct decisions and take the appropriate actions during routine occurrences, as well as abnormal situations.

The influence of alcohol drastically reduces the chances of completing a flight without incident. Even in small amounts, alcohol can impair judgment, decrease sense of responsibility, affect coordination, constrict visual field, diminish memory, reduce reasoning power, and lower attention span. As little as one ounce of alcohol can decrease the speed and strength of muscular reflexes, lessen the efficiency of eye movements while reading, and increase the frequency at which errors are committed. Impairments in vision and hearing occur at alcohol blood levels as low as .01 percent. The alcohol consumed in beer and mixed drinks is ethyl alcohol, a central nervous system depressant. From a medical point of view, it acts on the body much like a general anesthetic. The "dose" is generally much lower and more slowly consumed in the case of alcohol, but the basic effects on the system are similar. Alcohol is easily and quickly absorbed by the digestive tract. The bloodstream absorbs about 80 to 90 percent of the alcohol in a drink within 30 minutes on an empty stomach. The body requires about 3 hours to rid itself of all the alcohol contained in one mixed drink or one beer.

With a hangover, a pilot is still under the influence of alcohol. Although a pilot may think that he or she is functioning normally, the impairment of motor and mental responses still remains. Considerable amounts of alcohol can remain in the body for over 16 hours, so pilots should be cautious about flying too soon after drinking.

Altitude multiplies the effects of alcohol on the brain. When combined with altitude, the alcohol from two drinks may have the same effect as three or four drinks. Alcohol interferes with the brain's ability to utilize oxygen, producing a form of histotoxic hypoxia. The effects are rapid because alcohol passes so quickly into the bloodstream. In addition, the brain is a highly vascular organ that is immediately sensitive to changes in the blood's composition. For a pilot, the lower oxygen availability at altitude, along with the lower capability of the brain to use what oxygen is there, adds up to a deadly combination.

Intoxication is determined by the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. This is usually measured as a percentage by weight in the blood. 14 CFR part 91 requires that blood alcohol level be less than .04 percent and that 8 hours pass between drinking alcohol and piloting an airplane. A pilot with a blood alcohol level of .04 percent or greater after 8 hours cannot fly until the blood alcohol falls below that amount. Even though blood alcohol may be well below .04 percent, a pilot cannot fly sooner than 8 hours after drinking alcohol.

Although the regulations are quite specific, it is a good idea to be more conservative than the regulations.


Dehydration is the term given to a critical loss of water from the body. The first noticeable effect of dehydration is fatigue, which in turn makes top physical and mental performance difficult, if not impossible. As a pilot, flying for long periods in hot summer temperatures or at high altitudes increases the susceptibility of dehydration since the dry air at altitude tends to increase the rate of water loss from the body. If this fluid is not replaced, fatigue progresses to dizziness, weakness, nausea, tingling of hands and feet, abdominal cramps, and extreme thirst.

Heatstroke is a condition caused by any inability of the body to control its temperature. Onset of this condition may be recognized by the symptoms of dehydration, but also has been known to be recognizable only by complete collapse.

To prevent these symptoms, it is recommended that an ample supply of water be carried and used at frequent intervals on any long flight, whether thirsty or not. If the airplane has a canopy or roof window, wearing light-colored, porous clothing and a hat will help provide protection from the sun. Keeping the cockpit well ventilated aids in dissipating excess heat.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Fatigue is frequently associated with pilot error. Some of the effects of fatigue include degradation of attention and concentration, impaired coordination, and decreased ability to communicate. These factors can seriously influence the ability to make effective decisions. Physical fatigue can result from sleep loss, exercise, or physical work. Factors such as stress and prolonged performance of cognitive work can result in mental fatigue.

Like stress, fatigue also falls into two broad categories: acute and chronic. Acute fatigue is short term and is a normal occurrence in everyday living. It is the kind of tiredness people feel after a period of strenuous effort, excitement, or lack of sleep. Rest after exertion and 8 hours of sound sleep ordinarily cures this condition.

A special type of acute fatigue is skill fatigue. This type of fatigue has two main effects on performance:
  • Timing disruption. Appearing to perform a task as usual, but the timing of each component is slightly off. This makes the pattern of the operation less smooth, because the pilot performs each component as though it were separate, instead of part of an integrated activity.
  • Disruption of the perceptual field. Concentrating attention upon movements or objects in the center of vision and neglecting those in the periphery. This may be accompanied by loss of accuracy and smoothness in control movements.

Acute fatigue has many causes, but the following are among the most important for the pilot:
• Mild hypoxia (oxygen deficiency)
• Physical stress
• Psychological stress
• Depletion of physical energy resulting from psychological stress

Sustained psychological stress accelerates the glandular secretions that prepare the body for quick reactions during an emergency. These secretions make the circulatory and respiratory systems work harder, and the liver releases energy to provide the extra fuel needed for brain and muscle work. When this reserve energy supply is depleted, the body lapses into generalized and severe fatigue. Acute fatigue can be prevented by a proper diet and adequate rest and sleep. A well-balanced diet prevents the body from having to consume its own tissues as an energy source. Adequate rest maintains the body's store of vital energy.

Chronic fatigue, extending over a long period of time, usually has psychological roots, although an underlying disease is sometimes responsible. Continuous high stress levels, for example, can produce chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue is not relieved by proper diet and adequate rest and sleep, and usually requires treatment by a physician.

An individual may experience this condition in the form of weakness, tiredness, palpitations of the heart, breathlessness, headaches, or irritability. Sometimes chronic fatigue even creates stomach or intestinal problems and generalized aches and pains throughout the body. When the condition becomes serious enough, it can lead to emotional illness.

If suffering from acute fatigue, stay on the ground. If fatigue occurs in the cockpit, no amount of training or experience can overcome the detrimental effects. Getting adequate rest is the only way to prevent fatigue from occurring. Avoid flying without a full night's rest, after working excessive hours, or after an especially exhausting or stressful day. Pilots who suspect they are suffering from chronic fatigue should consult a physician.


Stress is defined as the body's response to physical and psychological demands placed upon it. The body's reaction to stress includes releasing chemical hormones (such as adrenaline) into the blood, and increasing metabolism to provide more energy to the muscles. The blood sugar, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and perspiration all increase. The term "stressor" is used to describe an element that causes an individual to experience stress. Examples of stressors include physical stress (noise or vibration), physiological stress (fatigue), and psychological stress (difficult work or personal situations).

Stress falls into two broad categories, including acute stress (short term) and chronic stress (long term). Acute stress involves an immediate threat that is perceived as danger. This is the type of stress that triggers a "fight or flight" response in an individual, whether the threat is real or imagined. Normally, a healthy person can cope with acute stress and prevent stress overload. However, on-going acute stress can develop into chronic stress.

Chronic stress can be defined as a level of stress that presents an intolerable burden, exceeds the ability of an individual to cope, and causes individual performance to fall sharply. Unrelenting psychological pressures, such as loneliness, financial worries, and relationship or work problems can produce a cumulative level of stress that exceeds a person's ability to cope with the situation. When stress reaches these levels, performance falls off rapidly. Pilots experiencing this level of stress are not safe and should not exercise their airman privileges. Pilots who suspect they are suffering from chronic stress should consult a physician.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas produced by all internal combustion engines. Since it attaches itself to the hemoglobin in the blood about 200 times more easily than oxygen, carbon monoxide prevents the hemoglobin from carrying oxygen to the cells, resulting in hypemic hypoxia. It can take up to 48 hours for the body to dispose of carbon monoxide. If the poisoning is severe enough, it can result in death. Aircraft heater vents and defrost vents may provide carbon monoxide a passageway into the cabin, particularly if the engine exhaust system has a leak or is damaged. If a strong odor of exhaust gases is detected, assume that carbon monoxide is present. However, carbon monoxide may be present in dangerous amounts even if no exhaust odor is detected. Disposable, inexpensive carbon monoxide detectors are widely available. In the presence of carbon monoxide, these detectors change color to alert the pilot of the presence of carbon monoxide. Some effects of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, blurred vision, dizziness, drowsiness, and/or loss of muscle power. Anytime a pilot smells exhaust odor, or any time that these symptoms are experienced, immediate corrective actions should be taken. These include turning off the heater, opening fresh air vents and windows, and using supplemental oxygen, if available.

Tobacco smoke also causes carbon monoxide poisoning. Smoking at sea level can raise the CO concentration in the blood and result in physiological effects similar to flying at 8,000 feet. Besides hypoxia, tobacco causes diseases and physiological debilitation that are medically disqualifying for pilots.


The brain receiving conflicting messages about the state of the body causes motion sickness, or airsickness. A pilot may experience motion sickness during initial flights, but it generally goes away within the first few lessons. Anxiety and stress, which may be experienced at the beginning of flight training, can contribute to motion sickness. Symptoms of motion sickness include general discomfort, nausea, dizziness, paleness, sweating, and vomiting.

It is important to remember that experiencing airsickness is no reflection on one's ability as a pilot. If prone to motion sickness, let the flight instructor know since there are techniques that can be used to overcome this problem. For example, avoid lessons in turbulent conditions until becoming more comfortable in the airplane, or start with shorter flights and graduate to longer instruction periods. If symptoms of motion sickness are experienced during a lesson, opening fresh air vents, focusing on objects outside the airplane, and avoiding unnecessary head movements may help alleviate some of the discomfort.

Although medications like Dramamine can prevent airsickness in passengers, they are not recommended while flying since they can cause drowsiness and other problems.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Spatial disorientation specifically refers to the lack of orientation with regard to the position, attitude, or movement of the airplane in space. The body uses three integrated systems working together to ascertain orientation and movement in space. The eye is by far the largest source of information. Kinesthesia refers to the sensation of position, movement, and tension perceived through the nerves, muscles, and tendons. The vestibular system is a very sensitive motion sensing system located in the inner ears. It reports head position, orientation, and movement in three-dimensional space.

All this information comes together in the brain, and most of the time, the three streams of information agree, giving a clear idea of where and how the body is moving.

Flying can sometimes cause these systems to supply conflicting information to the brain, which can lead to disorientation. During flight in visual meteorological conditions (VMC), the eyes are the major orientation source and usually prevail over false sensations from other sensory systems. When these visual cues are taken away, as they are in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), false sensations can cause a pilot to quickly become disoriented.

The vestibule system in the inner ear allows the pilot to sense movement and determines orientation in the surrounding environment. In both the left and right inner ear, three semicircular canals are positioned at approximate right angles to each other.

Each canal is filled with fluid and has a section full of fine hairs. Acceleration of the inner ear in any direction causes the tiny hairs to deflect, which in turn stimulates nerve impulses, sending messages to the brain. The vestibular nerve transmits the impulses from the utricle, saccule, and semicircular canals to the brain to interpret motion.

The postural system sends signals from the skin, joints, and muscles to the brain that are interpreted in relation to the earth's gravitational pull. These signals determine posture. Inputs from each movement update the body's position to the brain on a constant basis. "Seat of the pants" flying is largely dependent upon these signals. Used in conjunction with visual and vestibular clues, these sensations can be fairly reliable. However, the body cannot distinguish between acceleration forces due to gravity and those resulting from maneuvering the aircraft, which can lead to sensory illusions and false impressions of the airplane's orientation and movement.

Under normal flight conditions, when there is a visual reference to the horizon and ground, the sensory system in the inner ear helps to identify the pitch, roll, and yaw movements of the airplane. When visual contact with the horizon is lost, the vestibular system becomes unreliable. Without visual references outside the airplane, there are many situations where combinations of normal motions and forces can create convincing illusions that are difficult to overcome. In a classic example, a pilot may believe the airplane is in level flight, when, in reality, it is in a gradual turn. If the airspeed increases, the pilot may experience a postural sensation of a level dive and pull back on the stick, which tightens the turn and creates increasing G-loads. If recovery is not initiated, a steep spiral will develop. This is sometimes called the graveyard spiral, because if the pilot fails to recognize that the airplane is in a spiral and fails to return the airplane to wings-level flight, the airplane will eventually strike the ground. If the horizon becomes visible again, the pilot will have an opportunity to return the airplane to straight-and-level flight, and continued visual contact with the horizon will allow the pilot to maintain straight-and-level flight. However, if contact with the horizon is lost again, the inner ear may fool the pilot into thinking the airplane has started a bank in the other direction, causing the graveyard spiral to begin all over again.

Prevention is usually the best remedy for spatial disorientation. Unless a pilot has many hours of training in instrument flight, flight in reduced visibility or at night when the horizon is not visible should be avoided. A pilot can reduce susceptibility to disorienting illusions through training and awareness, and learning to rely totally on flight instruments.

Besides the sensory illusions due to misleading inputs to the vestibular system, a pilot may also encounter various visual illusions during flight. Illusions rank among the most common factors cited as contributing to fatal airplane accidents.

Sloping cloud formations, an obscured horizon, a dark scene spread with ground lights and stars, and certain geometric patterns of ground light can create illusions of not being aligned correctly with the actual horizon.

Various surface features and atmospheric conditions encountered in landing can create illusions of being on the wrong approach path. Landing errors from these illusions can be prevented by anticipating them during approaches, inspecting unfamiliar airports before landing, using electronic glide slope or VASI systems when available, and maintaining proficiency in landing procedures. A narrower-than-usual runway can create the illusion that the airplane is higher than it actually is, while a wider-than-usual runway can have the opposite effect, causing the pilot to flare too high or overshoot the runway.

A runway that slopes up, or up sloping terrain, can create the illusion that the airplane is at a higher altitude than it actually is, and down sloping runways or terrain can create the opposite effect. Rain on the windshield can create the illusion of greater height, and haze can make distances appear greater than they are. At sunrise or sunset, a pilot may encounter flicker vertigo. In some individuals, flashing lights at certain frequencies can trigger seizures, nausea, convulsions, or unconsciousness. Seeing the sun through a slow moving propeller can produce the effect of a flashing light. So can bright light reflecting off the back of the propeller. Symptoms are rare, but be aware of the possibility.


Climbs and descents can sometimes cause ear or sinus pain and a temporary reduction in the ability to hear. The physiological explanation for this discomfort is a difference between the pressure of the air outside the body and that of the air inside the middle ear and nasal sinuses.

The middle ear is a small cavity located in the bone of the skull. It is closed off from the external ear canal by the eardrum. Normally, pressure differences between the middle ear and the outside world are equalized by a tube leading from inside each ear to the back of the throat on each side, called the eustachian tube. These tubes are usually closed, but open during chewing, yawning, or swallowing to equalize pressure. Even a slight difference between external pressure and middle ear pressure can cause discomfort.

During a climb, middle ear air pressure may exceed the pressure of the air in the external ear canal, causing the eardrum to bulge outward. Pilots become aware of this pressure change when they experience alternate sensations of "fullness" and "clearing." During descent, the reverse happens. While the pressure of the air in the external ear canal increases, the middle ear cavity, which equalized with the lower pressure at altitude, is at lower pressure than the external ear canal. This results in the higher outside pressure, causing the eardrum to bulge inward.

This condition can be more difficult to relieve due to the fact that the partial vacuum tends to constrict the walls of the eustachian tube. To remedy this often painful condition, which also causes a temporary reduction in hearing sensitivity, pinch the nostrils shut, close the mouth and lips, and blow slowly and gently in the mouth and nose.

This procedure forces air through the eustachian tube into the middle ear. It may not be possible to equalize the pressure in the ears if a pilot has a cold, an ear infection, or sore throat. A flight in this condition can be extremely painful, as well as damaging to the eardrums. If experiencing minor congestion, nose drops or nasal sprays may reduce the chance of a painful ear blockage. Before using any medication, check with an aviation medical examiner to ensure that it will not affect the ability to fly.

In a similar way, air pressure in the sinuses equalizes with the pressure in the cockpit through small openings that connect the sinuses to the nasal passages. An upper respiratory infection, such as a cold or sinusitis, or a nasal allergic condition can produce enough congestion around an opening to slow equalization. As the difference in pressure between the sinus and the cockpit increases, congestion may plug the opening. This "sinus block" occurs most frequently during descent. Slow descent rates can reduce the associated pain. A sinus block can occur in the frontal sinuses, located above each eyebrow, or in the maxillary sinuses, located in each upper cheek. It will usually produce excruciating pain over the sinus area. A maxillary sinus block can also make the upper teeth ache. Bloody mucus may discharge from the nasal passages.

Sinus block can be avoided by not flying with an upper respiratory infection or nasal allergic condition. Adequate protection is usually not provided by decongestant sprays or drops to reduce congestion around the sinus openings. Oral decongestants have side effects that can impair pilot performance. If a sinus block does not clear shortly after landing, a physician should be consulted.


Hyperventilation occurs when an individual is experiencing emotional stress, fright, or pain, and the breathing rate and depth increase, although the carbon dioxide level in the blood is already at a reduced level.

The result is an excessive loss of carbon dioxide from the body, which can lead to unconsciousness due to the respiratory system's overriding mechanism to regain control of breathing. Pilots encountering an unexpected stressful situation may unconsciously increase their breathing rate. If flying at higher altitudes, either with or without oxygen, a pilot may have a tendency to breathe more rapidly than normal, which often leads to hyperventilation. Since many of the symptoms of hyperventilation are similar to those of hypoxia, it is important to correctly diagnose and treat the proper condition. If using supplemental oxygen, check the equipment and flow rate to ensure the symptoms are not hypoxia related.

Common symptoms of hyperventilation include:
• Headache
• Decreased reaction time
• Impaired judgment
• Euphoria
• Visual impairment
• Drowsiness
• Light-headed or dizzy sensation
• Tingling in fingers and toes
• Numbness
• Pale, clammy appearance
• Muscle spasms

Hyperventilation may produce a pale, clammy appearance and muscle spasms compared to the cyanosis and limp muscles associated with hypoxia. The treatment for hyperventilation involves restoring the proper carbon dioxide level in the body. Breathing normally is both the best prevention and the best cure for hyperventilation. In addition to slowing the breathing rate, breathing into a paper bag or talking aloud helps to overcome hyperventilation. Recovery is usually rapid once the breathing rate is returned to normal.


Hypoxia means "reduced oxygen" or "not enough oxygen." Although any tissue will die if deprived of oxygen long enough, usually the most concern is with getting enough oxygen to the brain, since it is particularly vulnerable to oxygen deprivation. Any reduction in mental function while flying can result in life-threatening errors. Hypoxia can be caused by several factors including an insufficient supply of oxygen, inadequate transportation of oxygen, or the inability of the body tissues to use oxygen. The forms of hypoxia are divided into four major groups based on their causes: hypoxic hypoxia, hyperemic hypoxia, stagnant hypoxia, and histotoxic hypoxia.

Hypoxic hypoxia is a result of insufficient oxygen available to the lungs. A blocked airway or drowning are obvious examples of how the lungs can be deprived of oxygen, but the reduction in partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude is an appropriate example for pilots. Although the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere is constant, its partial pressure decreases proportionately as atmospheric pressure decreases. As the airplane ascends during flight, the percentage of each gas in the atmosphere remains the same, but there are fewer molecules available at the pressure required for them to pass between the membranes in the respiratory system. This decrease of oxygen molecules at sufficient pressure can lead to hypoxic hypoxia.

This occurs when the blood is not able to take up and transport a sufficient amount of oxygen to the cells in the body. Hyperemic means "not enough blood." This type of hypoxia is a result of oxygen deficiency in the blood, rather than a lack of inhaled oxygen, and can be caused by a variety of factors. It may be because there is not enough blood volume (due to severe bleeding), or may result from certain blood diseases, such as anemia. More often it is because hemoglobin, the actual blood molecule that transports oxygen, is chemically unable to bind oxygen molecules. The most common form of hyperemic hypoxia is carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hyperemic hypoxia also can be caused by the loss of blood from a blood donation. Blood can take several weeks to return to normal following a donation. Although the effects of the blood loss are slight at ground level, there are risks when flying during this time.

Stagnant means "not flowing," and stagnant hypoxia results when the oxygen-rich blood in the lungs isn't moving, for one reason or another, to the tissues that need it. An arm or leg going to sleep because the blood flow has accidentally been shut off is one form of stagnant hypoxia. This kind of hypoxia can also result from shock, the heart failing to pump blood effectively, or a constricted artery. During flight, stagnant hypoxia can occur when pulling excessive positive Gs. Cold temperatures also can reduce circulation and decrease the blood supplied to extremities.

The inability of the cells to effectively use oxygen is defined as histotoxic hypoxia. "Histo" refers to tissues or cells, and "toxic" means poison. In this case, plenty of oxygen is being transported to the cells that need it, but they are unable to make use of it. This impairment of cellular respiration can be caused by alcohol and other drugs, such as narcotics and poisons. Research has shown that drinking one ounce of alcohol can equate to about an additional 2,000 feet of physiological altitude.

High-altitude flying can place a pilot in danger of becoming hypoxic. Oxygen starvation causes the brain and other vital organs to become impaired. One particularly noteworthy attribute of the onset of hypoxia is the fact that the first symptoms are euphoria and a carefree feeling. With increased oxygen starvation, the extremities become less responsive and flying becomes less coordinated. The symptoms of hypoxia vary with the individual, but common symptoms include:
• Cyanosis (blue fingernails and lips)
• Headache
• Decreased reaction time
• Impaired judgment
• Euphoria
• Visual impairment
• Drowsiness
• Light-headed or dizzy sensation
• Tingling in fingers and toes
• Numbness

As hypoxia worsens, the field of vision begins to narrow, and instrument interpretation can become difficult. Even with all these symptoms, the effects of hypoxia can cause a pilot to have a false sense of security and be deceived into believing that everything is normal. The treatment for hypoxia includes flying at lower altitudes and/or using supplemental oxygen. All pilots are susceptible to the effects of oxygen starvation, regardless of physical endurance or acclimatization. When flying at high altitudes, it is paramount that oxygen be used to avoid the effects of hypoxia. The term "time of useful consciousness" describes the maximum time the pilot has to make rational, life-saving decisions and carry them out at a given altitude without supplemental oxygen. As altitude increases above 10,000 feet, the symptoms of hypoxia increase in severity, and the time of useful consciousness rapidly decreases.

Since symptoms of hypoxia can be different for each individual, the ability to recognize hypoxia can be greatly improved by experiencing and witnessing the effects of it during an altitude chamber "flight." The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides this opportunity through aviation physiology training, which is conducted at the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) and at many military facilities across the United States. To attend the Physiological Training Program at CAMI, telephone (405) 954-4837 or write: Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center Airman Education Program CAMI (AAM-400) P.O. Box 25082 Oklahoma City, OK 73125

Sunday, March 2, 2008


As a pilot, it is important to stay aware of the mental and physical standards required for the type of flying done. This chapter provides information on medical certification and on aeromedical factors related to flying activities.

A number of health factors and physiological effects can be linked to flying. Some are minor, while others are important enough to require special attention to ensure safety of flight. In some cases, physiological factors can lead to in-flight emergencies. Some important medical factors that a pilot should be aware of include hypoxia ("reduced oxygen" or "not enough oxygen." Hypoxia can be caused by several factors including an insufficient supply of oxygen, inadequate transportation of oxygen, or the inability of the body tissues to use oxygen), hypoxic hypoxia (This type of hypoxia is a result of insufficient oxygen available to the lungs. A decrease of oxygen molecules at sufficient pressure can lead to hypoxic hypoxia), hyperemic hypoxia (A type of hypoxia that is a result of oxygen deficiency in the blood, rather than a lack of inhaled oxygen. It can be caused by a variety of factors. Hyperemic means "not enough blood."), stagnant hypoxia histotoxic hypoxia, and symptoms of hypoxia, hyperventilation (Occurs when an individual is experiencing emotional stress, fright, or pain, and the breathing rate and depth increase, although the carbon dioxide level in the blood is already at a reduced level. The result is an excessive loss of carbon dioxide from the body, which can lead to unconsciousness due to the respiratory system's overriding mechanism to regain control of breathing.), middle ear and sinus problems, spatial disorientation (Specifically refers to the lack of orientation with regard to the position, attitude, or movement of the airplane in space), motion sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, stress and fatigue, dehydration, and heatstroke. Other subjects include the effects of alcohol and drugs, anxiety, and excess nitrogen in the blood after scuba diving.