Monday, August 31, 2009

Ground Lighting Illusions - Optical Illusions

Ground Lighting Illusions

Lights along a straight path, such as a road, and even lights on moving trains can be mistaken for runway and approach lights. Bright runway and approach lighting systems, especially where few lights illuminate the surrounding terrain, may create the illusion of less distance to the runway. The pilot who does not recognize this illusion will often fly a higher approach.

Of the senses, vision is the most important for safe flight. However, various terrain features and atmospheric conditions can create optical illusions. These illusions are primarily associated with landing. Since pilots must transition from reliance on instruments to visual cues outside the cockpit for landing at the end of an instrument approach, it is imperative they are aware of the potential problems associated with these illusions, and take appropriate corrective action. The major illusions leading to landing errors are described below.

Runway Width Illusion
A narrower-than-usual runway can create an illusion the aircraft is at a higher altitude than it actually is, especially when runway length-to-width relationships are comparable. [Figure 1-5A] The pilot who does not recognize this illusion will fly a lower approach, with the risk of striking objects along the approach path or landing short. A wider-than-usual runway can have the opposite effect, with the risk of leveling out high and landing hard, or overshooting the runway.

Runway and Terrain Slopes Illusion
An up-sloping runway, up-sloping terrain, or both, can create an illusion the aircraft is at a higher altitude than it actually is. [Figure 1-5B] The pilot who does not recognize this illusion will fly a lower approach. Down-sloping runways and Down-sloping approach terrain can have the opposite effect.

Featureless Terrain Illusion
An absence of surrounding ground features, as in an over-water approach, over darkened areas, or terrain made featureless by snow, can create an illusion the aircraft is at a higher altitude than it actually is. This illusion, sometimes referred to as the “black hole approach,” causes pilots to fly a lower approach than is desired.

Water Refraction
Rain on the windscreen can create an illusion of being at a higher altitude due to the horizon appearing lower than it is. This can result in the pilot flying a lower approach.

Atmospheric haze can create an illusion of being at a greater distance from the runway. As a result, the pilot will have a tendency to be high on the approach. Conversely, extremely clear air can give the pilot the illusion of being closer than he/she actually is, resulting in a long, low approach. The diffusion of light due to water particles can adversely affect depth perception. The lights and terrain features normally used to gauge height during landing become less effective for the pilot.

Penetration of fog can create an illusion of pitching up. Pilots who do not recognize this illusion will often steeped the approach quite abruptly.

Optical illusion: (in aircraft flight)
A misleading visual image of features on the ground associated with landing, which causes a pilot to misread the spatial relationships between the aircraft and the runway.

Practice Makes Proficient
Through training and awareness in developing absolute reliance on the instruments, pilots can reduce their susceptibility to disorienting illusions.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Coping with Spatial Disorientation

Pilots can take action to prevent illusions and their potentially disastrous consequences if they:

1. Understand the causes of these illusions and remain constantly alert for them.
2. Always obtain preflight weather briefings.
3. Do not continue flight into adverse weather conditions or into dusk or darkness unless proficient in the use of flight instruments.
4. Ensure that when outside visual references are used, they are reliable, fixed points on the Earth’s surface.
5. Avoid sudden head movement, particularly during takeoffs, turns, and approaches to landing.
6. Remember that illness, medication, alcohol, fatigue, sleep loss, and mild hypoxia is likely to increase susceptibility to spatial disorientation.
7. Most importantly, become proficient in the use of flight instruments and rely upon them.

The sensations, which lead to illusions during instrument flight conditions, are normal perceptions experienced by pilots. These undesirable sensations cannot be completely prevented, but through training and awareness, pilots can ignore or suppress them by developing absolute reliance on the flight instruments. As pilots gain proficiency in instrument flying, they become less susceptible to these illusions and their effects.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Demonstrating Spatial Disorientation

There are a number of controlled aircraft maneuvers a pilot can perform to experiment with spatial disorientation. While each maneuver will normally create a specific illusion, any false sensation is an effective demonstration of disorientation. Thus, even if there is no sensation during any of these maneuvers, the absence of sensation is still an effective demonstration in that it shows the inability to detect bank or roll. There are several objectives in demonstrating these various maneuvers.

1. They teach pilots to understand the susceptibility of the human system to spatial disorientation.
2. They demonstrate that judgments of aircraft attitude based on bodily sensations are frequently false.
3. They can help to lessen the occurrence and degree of disorientation through a better understanding of the relationship between aircraft motion, head movements, and resulting disorientation.
4. They can help to instill a greater confidence in relying on flight instruments for assessing true aircraft attitude.

A pilot should not attempt any of these maneuvers at low altitudes, or in the absence of an instructor pilot or an appropriate safety pilot.

Climbing While Accelerating
With the pilot’s eyes closed, the instructor pilot maintains approach airspeed in a straight-and-level attitude for several seconds, and then accelerates while maintaining straight-and-level attitude. The usual illusion during this maneuver, without visual references, will be that the aircraft is climbing.

Climbing While Turning
With the pilot’s eyes still closed and the aircraft in a straight-and-level attitude, the instructor pilot now executes, with a relatively slow entry, a well-coordinated turn of about 1.5 positive G (approximately 50bank) for 90. While in the turn, without outside visual references and under the effect of the slight positive G, the usual illusion produced is that of a climb. Upon sensing the climb, the pilot should immediately open the eyes and see that a slowly established, coordinated turn produces the same feeling as a climb.

Diving While Turning
This sensation can be created by repeating the previous procedure, with the exception that the pilot’s eyes should be kept closed until recovery from the turn is approximately one-half completed. With the eyes closed, the usual illusion will be that the aircraft is diving.

Tilting to Right or Left
While in a straight-and-level attitude, with the pilot’s eyes closed, the instructor pilot executes a moderate or slight skid to the left with wings level. The usual illusion is that the body is being tilted to the right.

Reversal of Motion
This illusion can be demonstrated in any of the three planes of motion. While straight-and-level, with the pilot’s eyes closed, the instructor pilot smoothly and positively rolls the aircraft to approximately a 45-bank attitude while maintaining heading and pitch attitude. The usual illusion is a strong sense of rotation in the opposite direction. After this illusion is noted, the pilot should open the eyes and observe that the aircraft is in a banked attitude.

Diving or Rolling Beyond the Vertical Plane
This maneuver may produce extreme disorientation. While in straight-and-level flight, the pilot should sit normally, either with eyes closed or gaze lowered to the floor. The instructor pilot starts a positive, coordinated roll toward a 30 or 40 angle of bank. As this is in progress, the pilot should tilt the head forward, look to the right or left, then immediately return the head to an upright position. The instructor pilot should time the maneuver so the roll is stopped just as the pilot returns his/her head upright. An intense disorientation is usually produced by this maneuver, with the pilot experiencing the sensation of falling downwards into the direction of the roll.

In the descriptions of these maneuvers, the instructor pilot is doing the flying, but having the pilot do the flying can also make a very effective demonstration. The pilot should close his/her eyes and tilt the head to one side. The instructor pilot tells the pilot what control inputs to perform. The pilot then attempts to establish the correct attitude or control input with eyes still closed and head still tilted. While it is clear the pilot has no idea of the actual attitude, he/she will react to what the senses are saying. After a short time, the pilot will become disoriented and the instructor pilot then tells the pilot to look up and recover. The benefit of this exercise is the pilot actually experiences the disorientation while flying the aircraft.

Demonstrating Spatial Disorientation—Safety Check
These demonstrations should never be conducted at low altitudes, or without an instructor pilot or appropriate safety pilot onboard.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Major Illusions Leading to Spatial Disorientation

Leans: An abrupt correction of a banked attitude, entered too slowly to stimulate the motion sensing system in the inner ear, can create the illusion of banking in the opposite direction.

Coriolis illusion: An abrupt head movement, while in a prolonged constant-rate turn that has ceased stimulating the motion sensing system, can create the illusion of rotation or movement in an entirely different axis.

Graveyard spiral: The illusion of the cessation of a turn while actually still in a prolonged coordinated, constant-rate turn, which can lead a disoriented pilot to a loss of control of the aircraft.

Somatogravic illusion: The feeling of being in a nose-up or nose-down attitude, caused by a rapid acceleration or deceleration while in flight situations that lack visual reference.

Inversion illusion: The feeling that the aircraft is tumbling backwards, caused by an abrupt change from climb to straight-andlevel flight while in situations lacking visual reference.

Elevator illusion: The feeling of being in a climb or descent, caused by the kind of abrupt vertical accelerations that result from upor downdrafts.

False horizon: Inaccurate visual information for aligning the aircraft caused by various natural and geometric formations that disorient the pilot from the actual horizon.

Autokinesis: Nighttime visual illusion that a stationary light is moving, which becomes apparent after several seconds of staring at the light.

The sensory system responsible for most of the illusions leading to spatial disorientation is the vestibular system in the inner ear. The major illusions leading to spatial disorientation are covered below.

Inner Ear
The Leans
A condition called the leans can result when a banked attitude, to the left for example, may be entered too slowly to set in motion the fluid in the “roll” semicircular tubes. [Figure 1-2] An abrupt correction of this attitude can now set the fluid in motion, creating the illusion of a banked attitude to the right. The disoriented pilot may make the error of rolling the aircraft into the original left-banked attitude or, if level flight is maintained, will feel compelled to lean to the left until this illusion subsides.

Coriolis Illusion
The pilot has been in a turn long enough for the fluid in the ear canal to move at the same speed as the canal. A movement of the head in a different plane, such as looking at something in a different part of the cockpit, may set the fluid moving thereby creating the strong illusion of turning or accelerating on an entirely different axis. This is called Coriolis illusion. This action causes the pilot to think the aircraft is doing a maneuver that it is not. The disoriented pilot may maneuver the aircraft into a dangerous attitude in an attempt to correct the aircraft’s perceived attitude.

For this reason, it is important that pilots develop an instrument cross-check or scan that involves minimal head movement. Take care when retrieving charts and other objects in the cockpit—if you drop something, retrieve it with minimal head movement and be alert for the Coriolis illusion.

Graveyard Spiral
As in other illusions, a pilot in a prolonged coordinated, constant-rate turn, will have the illusion of not turning. During the recovery to level flight, the pilot will experience the sensation of turning in the opposite direction. The disoriented pilot may return the aircraft to its original turn. Because an aircraft tends to lose altitude in turns unless the pilot compensates for the loss in lift, the pilot may notice a loss of altitude. The absence of any sensation of turning creates the illusion of being in a level descent. The pilot may pull back on the controls in an attempt to climb or stop the descent. This action tightens the spiral and increases the loss of altitude; hence, this illusion is referred to as a graveyard spiral. At some point, this could lead to a loss of control by the pilot.

Somatogravic Illusion
A rapid acceleration, such as experienced during takeoff, stimulates the otolith organs in the same way as tilting the head backwards. This action creates the somatogravic illusion of being in a nose-up attitude, especially in situations without good visual references. The disoriented pilot may push the aircraft into a nose-low or dive attitude. A rapid deceleration by quick reduction of the throttle(s) can have the opposite effect, with the disoriented pilot pulling the aircraft into a nose-up or stall attitude.

Inversion Illusion
An abrupt change from climb to straight-and-level flight can stimulate the otolith organs enough to create the illusion of tumbling backwards, or inversion illusion. The disoriented pilot may push the aircraft abruptly into a nose-low attitude, possibly intensifying this illusion.

Elevator Illusion
An abrupt upward vertical acceleration, as can occur in an updraft, can stimulate the otolith organs to create the illusion of being in a climb. This is called elevator illusion. The disoriented pilot may push 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.

Two illusions that lead to spatial disorientation, the false horizon and autokinesis, are concerned with the visual system.

False Horizon
A sloping cloud formation, an obscured horizon, an aurora borealis, a dark scene spread with ground lights and stars, and certain geometric patterns of ground lights can provide inaccurate visual information, or false horizon, for aligning the aircraft correctly with the actual horizon. The disoriented pilot may place the aircraft in a dangerous attitude.

In the dark, a stationary light will appear to move about when stared at for many seconds. The disoriented pilot could lose control of the aircraft in attempting to align it with the false movements of this light, called autokinesis.

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, because of the forces acting upon the body in certain flight situations, many false sensations can occur due to acceleration forces overpowering gravity. [Figure 1-4] These situations include uncoordinated turns, climbing turns, and turbulence.

Sensory Systems for Orientation

Orientation is the awareness of the position of the aircraft and of oneself in relation to a specific reference point. Disorientation is the lack of orientation, and spatial disorientation specifically refers to the lack of orientation with regard to position in space and to other objects.

Orientation is maintained through the body’s sensory organs in three areas: visual, vestibular, and postural. The eyes maintain visual orientation; the motion sensing system in the inner ear maintains vestibular orientation; and the nerves in the skin, joints, and muscles of the body maintain postural orientation. When human beings are in their natural environment, these three systems work well. However, when the human body is subjected to the forces of flight, these senses can provide misleading information. It is this misleading information that causes pilots to become disoriented.

During flight in visual meteorological conditions (VMC), the eyes are the major orientation source and usually provide accurate and reliable information. Visual cues usually prevail over false sensations from other sensory systems. When these visual cues are taken away, as they are in IMC, false sensations can cause the pilot to quickly become disoriented.

The only effective way to counter these false sensations is to recognize the problem, disregard the false sensations, and while relying totally on the flight instruments, use the eyes to determine the aircraft attitude. The pilot must have an understanding of the problem and the self-confidence to control the aircraft using only instrument indications.

The inner ear has two major parts concerned with orientation, the semicircular canals and the otolith organs. [Figure 1-1] The semicircular canals detect angular acceleration of the body while the otolith organs detect linear acceleration and gravity. The semicircular canals consist of three tubes at right angles to each other, each located on one of the three axes: pitch, roll, or yaw. Each canal is filled with a fluid called endolymph fluid. In the center of the canal is the cupola, a gelatinous structure that rests upon sensory hairs located at the end of the vestibular nerves.

Figure 1-2 illustrates what happens during a turn. When the ear canal is moved in its plane, the relative motion of the fluid moves the cupola, which, in turn, stimulates the sensory hairs to provide the sensation of turning. This effect can be demonstrated by taking a glass filled with water and turning it slowly. The wall of the glass is moving, yet the water is not. If these sensory hairs were attached to the glass, they would be moving in relation to the water, which is still standing still.

The ear was designed to detect turns of a rather short duration. After a short period of time (approximately 20 seconds), the fluid accelerates due to friction between the fluid and the canal wall. Eventually, the fluid will move at the same speed as the ear canal. Since both are moving at the same speed, the sensory hairs detect no relative movement and the sensation of turning ceases. This can also be illustrated with the glass of water. Initially, the glass moved and the water did not. Yet, continually turning the glass would result in the water accelerating and matching the speed of the wall of the glass.

The pilot is now in a turn without any sensation of turning. When the pilot stops turning, the ear canal stops moving but the fluid does not. The motion of the fluid moves the cupola and therefore, the sensory hairs in the opposite direction. This creates the sensation of turning in the opposite direction even though the turn has stopped.

The otolith organs detect linear acceleration and gravity in a similar way. Instead of being filled with a fluid, a gelatinous membrane containing chalk-like crystals covers the sensory hairs. When the pilot tilts his/her head, the weight of these crystals causes this membrane to shift due to gravity and the sensory hairs detect this shift. The brain orients this new position to what it perceives as vertical. Acceleration and deceleration also cause the membrane to shift in a similar manner. Forward acceleration gives the illusion of the head tilting backward. [Figure 1-3]

Nerves in the body’s skin, muscles, and joints constantly send signals to the brain, which signals the body’s relation to gravity. These signals tell the pilot his/her current position. Acceleration will be felt as the pilot is pushed back into the seat. Forces created in turns can lead to false sensations of the true direction of gravity, and may give the pilot a false sense of which way is up.
Uncoordinated turns, especially climbing turns, can cause misleading signals to be sent to the brain. Skids and slips give the sensation of banking or tilting. Turbulence can create motions that confuse the brain as well. Pilots need to be aware that fatigue or illness can exacerbate these sensations and ultimately lead to subtle incapacitation.

Orientation: Awareness of the position of the aircraft and of oneself in relation to a specific reference point.

Spatial disorientation: The state of confusion due to misleading information being sent to the brain from various sensory organs, resulting in a lack of awareness of the aircraft position in relation to a specific reference point.

Vestibular: The central cavity of the bony labyrinth of the ear, or the parts of the membranous labyrinth that it contains.

Flying Instruments Guideline

Is an Instrument Rating Necessary? Instrument Rating Requirements. Training for the Instrument Rating. Maintaining the Instrument Rating. Human Factors, Aerodynamic Factors, Flight Instruments, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers, Airplane Attitude Instrument Flying, Helicopter Attitude Instrument Flying, Navigation Systems, The National Airspace System, The Air Traffic Control System, IFR Flight, Emergency Operations.

Human Factors
Human factors is a broad field that studies the interaction between people and machines for the purpose of improving performance and reducing errors. As aircraft became more reliable and less prone to mechanical failure, the percentage of accidents related to human factors increased. Some aspect of human factors now accounts for over 80 percent of all accidents. Pilots who have a good understanding of human factors are better equipped to plan and execute a safe and uneventful flight.

Flying in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) can result in sensations that are misleading to the body’s sensory system. A safe pilot needs to understand these sensations and effectively counteract them. Instrument flying requires a pilot to make decisions using all available resources.

The elements of human factors covered in this chapter include sensory systems used for orientation, illusions in flight, physiological and psychological factors, medical factors, aeronautical decision making, and crew/cockpit resource management.

Human factors: A multidisciplinary field encompassing the behavioral and social sciences, engineering, and physiology, to consider the variables that influence individual and crew performance for the purpose of reducing errors.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Aircraft Structure

According to the current Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 1, Definitions and Abbreviations, an aircraft is a device that is used, or intended to be used, for flight. Categories of aircraft for certification of airmen include airplane, rotorcraft, lighter-than-air, powered-lift, and glider. Part 1 also defines airplane as an engine-driven, fixed-wing aircraft heavier than air that is supported in flight by the dynamic reaction of air against its wings. This chapterprovides a brief introduction to the airplane and its major components.

Aircraft—A device that is used for flight in the air.

Airplane—An engine-driven, fixed-wing aircraft heavier than air that is supported in flight by the dynamic reaction of air against its wings.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Effects of Weight

Most modern aircraft are so designed that if all seats are occupied, all baggage allowed by the baggage compartment is carried, and all of the fuel tanks are full, the aircraft will be grossly overloaded. This type of design requires the pilot to give great consideration to the requirements of the trip. If maximum range is required, occupants or baggage must be left behind, or if the maximum load must be carried, the range, dictated by the amount of fuel on board, must be reduced.

Some of the problems caused by overloading an aircraft are:

• the aircraft will need a higher takeoff speed, which results in a longer takeoff run.
• both the rate and angle of climb will be reduced.
• the service ceiling will be lowered.
• the cruising speed will be reduced.
• the cruising range will be shortened.
• maneuverability will be decreased.
• a longer landing roll will be required because the landing speed will be higher.
• excessive loads will be imposed on the structure, especially the landing gear.

The POH or AFM includes tables or charts that give the pilot an indication of the performance expected for any weight. An important part of careful preflight planning includes a check of these charts to determine the aircraft is loaded so the proposed flight can be safely made.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weight Control

Weight is a major factor in airplane construction and operation, and it demands respect from all pilots and particular diligence by all A&P mechanics and repairmen. Excessive weight reduces the efficiency of an aircraft and the safety margin available if an emergency condition should arise.

When an aircraft is designed, it is made as light as the required structural strength will allow, and the wings or rotors are designed to support the maximum allowable weight. When the weight of an aircraft is increased, the wings or rotors must produce additional lift and the structure must support not only the additional static loads, but also the dynamic loads imposed by flight maneuvers. For example, the wings of a 3,000-pound airplane must support 3,000 pounds in level flight, but when the airplane is turned smoothly and sharply using a bank angle of 60°, the dynamic load requires the wings to support twice this, or 6,000 pounds.

Severe uncoordinated maneuvers or flight into turbulence can impose dynamic loads on the structure great enough to cause failure. In accordance with Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 23, the structure of a normal category airplane must be strong enough to sustain a load factor of 3.8 times its weight. That is, every pound of weight added to an aircraft requires that the structure be strong enough to support an additional 3.8 pounds.

An aircraft operated in the utility category must sustain a load factor of 4.4, and acrobatic category aircraft must be strong enough to withstand 6.0 times their weight.

The lift produced by a wing is determined by its airfoil shape, angle of attack, speed through the air, and the air density. When an aircraft takes off from an airport with a high density altitude, it must accelerate to a speed faster than would be required at sea level to produce enough lift to allow takeoff; therefore, a longer takeoff run is necessary. The distance needed may be longer than the available runway. When operating from a high-density altitude airport, the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) must be consulted to determine the maximum weight allowed for the aircraft under the conditions of altitude, temperature, wind, and runway conditions.

Weight and Balance Control

There are many factors that lead to efficient and safe operation of aircraft. Among these vital factors is proper weight and balance control. The weight and balance system commonly employed among aircraft consists of three equally important elements: the weighing of the aircraft, the maintaining of the weight and balance records, and the proper loading of the aircraft. An inaccuracy in any one of these elements nullifies the purpose of the whole system. The final loading calculations will be meaningless if either the aircraft has been improperly weighed or the records contain an error.

Improper loading cuts down the efficiency of an aircraft from the standpoint of altitude, maneuverability, rate of climb, and speed. It may even be the cause of failure to complete the flight, or for that matter, failure to start the flight. Because of abnormal stresses placed upon the structure of an improperly loaded aircraft, or because of changed flying characteristics of the aircraft, loss of life and destruction of valuable equipment may result. The responsibility for proper weight and balance control begins with the engineers and designers, and extends to the aircraft mechanics that maintain the aircraft and the pilots who operate them.

Modern aircraft are engineered utilizing state-of-the-art technology and materials to achieve maximum reliability and performance for the intended category. As much care and expertise must be exercised in operating and maintaining these efficient aircraft as was taken in their design and manufacturing.

The designers of an aircraft have set the maximum weight, based on the amount of lift the wings or rotors can provide under the operation conditions for which the aircraft is designed. The structural strength of the aircraft also limits the maximum weight the aircraft can safely carry. The ideal location of the center of gravity (CG) was very carefully determined by the designers, and the maximum deviation allowed from this specific location has been calculated.

The manufacturer provides the aircraft operator with the empty weight of the aircraft and the location of its emptyweight center of gravity (EWCG) at the time the certified aircraft leaves the factory. Amateur-built aircraft must have this information determined and available at the time of certification.

The airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic or repairman who maintains the aircraft keeps the weight and balance records current, recording any changes that have been made because of repairs or alterations. The pilot in command of the aircraft has the responsibility on every flight to know the maximum allowable weight of the aircraft and its CG limits. This allows the pilot to determine on the preflight inspection that the aircraft is loaded in such a way that the CG is within the allowable limits.