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  #1  
Old 07-16-2009, 02:31 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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A pilot can fly upside down and not know it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial_disorientation

I really wonder how this can happen. They say it was the cause of the JFK Jr. crash. Does gravity not come into play? Maybe it's simplistic but to me if the plane is upside down you are going to fall out of your seat, or at least be held in by your seat belt.
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  #2  
Old 07-16-2009, 02:39 PM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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If you read the article carefully (I say this only because it's not a point emphasized in the article, so it takes some work to spot it), the normal feeling of gravity is overcome by the effects of accellerating in a curve, which works to press you "down" into your seat. Thus, it still feels like you are being "pulled" down into the seat, though in fact you are being accellerated sideways by the seat.

I don't see anywhere in the article where it asserts this would happen if you were actually upside down. Rather, they talk about the graveyard spiral, where your plane will be rolled sideways and lose lift. Once you no longer are accellerating relative to your "norm" of the seat bottom, you will certainly know that "down" is not really down, but you may be too late to do anything about it, and you'll most likely experience some disorientation while your senses try to make sense of the data.
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Old 07-16-2009, 02:44 PM
Philster Philster is offline
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As the plane moves, you are pressed in different directions. In an ideal state for your senses, you get the feeling of sitting in your seat and get used to it. You interpret this as 'gravity has me held down'. But gravitational forces are not the only forces that hold you in an airplane seat.

It is the most frequently observed feeling, but it is easily duplicated by your body, butt, whatever, being pressed against the sides and bottom due to inertia.

You could be losing altitude, while banked, but be convinced, by way of how you feel in your seat, that you are in level flight.
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  #4  
Old 07-16-2009, 02:44 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is offline
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I'm guessing the OP has never flown through clouds. It is very much like trying to swim in a white bowl filled with milk. There are no visual cues to help you remain oriented, there is no horizon, and g-forces can pull you everywhich way, to the point that you really don't know which way is up without looking at your instruments.
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Old 07-16-2009, 02:47 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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I know you are pressed down to the seat in a curve , maybe that is the only time this happens. From other articles I have read there was no mention of the plane turning but maybe they just left that out.

I have flown through clouds, but only in a big airliner. I am not a pilot.

Last edited by Bijou Drains; 07-16-2009 at 02:48 PM..
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  #6  
Old 07-16-2009, 02:52 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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During flight training one of my instructors subjected me to conditions that proved, conclusively, (at least to me) that yes, you CAN be upside down and not know it. In fact you can be in almost any orientation and, if you have no reference to something outside the airplane, you may still perceive yourself to be right-side up. This is counter-intuitive, but it can happen.

Most commonly, this involves an extreme bank with the pilot not knowing that the airplane is in a bank, it can also involve climbing or descending without realizing it. Truly upside-down and unaware of it would be rare but it CAN happen. Very shortly after that you may suddenly become aware something is Very Wrong as it would not be a stable situation, but you will be almost totally disoriented and figuring out what's wrong and how to fix it may take longer than the time in which you have left to do something about the problem.
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Old 07-16-2009, 03:01 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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Other than a jet fighter planes are not supposed to fly upside down, correct? I read somewhere that a 737 (or similar plane) once did a complete roll and people were surprised the plane did not have major problems after the roll.
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  #8  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:15 PM
Telemark Telemark is online now
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http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...roll-a-747-jet
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  #9  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:18 PM
brewha brewha is offline
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There are lots of planes that are designed to fly upside down. And, almost any plane could fly upside down, at least for a short while.

As for the JFK spatial orientation deal. Have you ever been on a roller coaster that loops? You are pushed into your seat for the entire loop - even when you are upside down. The force at which you are pushed into your seat depends on the size of the loop and the speed of the cart - or in JFK's case, speed of the plane. The faster the vehicle, the bigger the loop you can go through while still feeling pushed into your seat.

His plane, a Piper Saratoga, flies at around 160MPH. At that speed, you can have a HUGE loop and still be pushed into your seat. So, imagine the plane is upside down, this is the top of the loop. Now, if the pilot pulls back on the stick, even slightly, the plane starts down the backside of a huge loop, and the passengers feel as though gravity is pushing them into their seats.
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  #10  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:29 PM
W0X0F W0X0F is offline
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The Boeing 367-80 (prototype to what became the Boeing 707) did a barrel roll in Seattle in the mid-50s. Just google "Boeing 707 barrel roll" and you'll find video. (In Wikipedia, it was said that the only other large 4-engine passenger plane known to have done a barrel roll was the Concorde!)
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  #11  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:31 PM
Llama Llogophile Llama Llogophile is online now
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Flight instructor here.

I frequently take students into the clouds for the first time. Most of it's been said already, but here's my two cents.

There are a number of ways to become disoriented in flight through bodily perception, and visual illusions. I've found that no matter how much a person reads about it or is told about it, there's no way to know how they're going to react until placed in actual IMC ("instrument meteorological conditions").

Basically, when you have no visual cues with which to orient yourself spacially, your body makes a guess at which way is up. It's going to guess wrong.

You'd certainly feel something if the plane went anything close to inverted, but it wouldn't necessarily help you. It would probably confuse you more.

Instead, what I usually see is a slight bank develops, then a change in pitch. If not caught immediately, it gets worse. This could then turn into an unusual attitude, perhaps even inverting the airplane.

My job is to carefully observe the student and stop an unusual attitude before it happens. My first line of defense is being sure the student understands what to do before I place them in this situation, and practicing on a simulator. Rarely have I ever had a student come close to actually losing control. But I have seen a few who took a while to acclimate to instrument flying.

Flying in the clouds is no joke. Most students are pretty well freaked out by the experience the first time they do it.
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  #12  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:34 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
Other than a jet fighter planes are not supposed to fly upside down, correct?
No - but read further, I'll cover in more detail in a minute.

Quote:
I read somewhere that a 737 (or similar plane) once did a complete roll and people were surprised the plane did not have major problems after the roll.
That was a Boeing 707. Here is Tex Johnson narrating a clip of the maneuver (he's the pilot involved). As he explains, it is a 1g maneuver throughout. What that means is that during the entire roll there is a force of 1g exerted down towards the floor of the airplane. It is, indeed, a maneuver where, if you were seated inside the airplane with no reference to the outside you would be completely unaware of when the airplane was inverted as the forces involved would hold you "down" in your seat exactly as if you were sitting on the ground.

Some people with a very poor understanding of aerodynamics were surprised, but not pilots and not real aero-engineers. Although a barrel roll looks impressive it's actually a gentle maneuver from the standpoint of forces acting on the airplane.

Continuous inverted flight is another matter entirely - in many airplanes systems are not designed to run in a condition of either zero or negative g's, so prolonged inverted flight will potentially cause problems.

Engines designed for inverted flight are not limited to fighter jets - many very small aerobatic airplanes have them and fly upside down with no problems (although my friends who do this do say your shoulders get sore quickly, as they are not designed to support your weight the way your buttocks are).

Even where engines are not designed for inverted flight it is still possible from the standpoint of the airframe, assuming you have a pilot who knows what he/she is doing and is not prone to panic. Glider pilots - that is, people who have no engines at all in their flying machines - can fly inverted (the important thing is to turn back upright in plenty of time to land rightside up). The Cessna 150 I used to routinely fly was capable of it - I watched another pilot (one who had some aerobatic skills) fly it inverted. As it did not have an engine set up for inverted flight the engine stopped after about 5-6 seconds inverted, but the airplane kept happily gliding along upside-down, under the complete control of the pilot, for about a half a minute more. At which point he rolled it upright again and the engine started right back up. The only problem was that, while inverted, quite a bit of the oil ran out and he had to pay to top it back up again after the flight (This is not how the mechanics like to do oil changes!)

I would like to add that, personally, I am not an aerobatic pilot. My knowledge has been gleaned from watching aerobatic pilots and talking with them, not from any personal experience with inverted flight. Honestly, taking the bank up to about 60 degrees is about my limit of confidence, and I've never been over 70 degrees myself. I don't particularly like pulling 3 g's, definitely don't like being upside down, and while I might one day take an aerobatic ride I seriously doubt ever becoming proficient in that area of flight.

"Not supposed to fly upside-down" has more to do with screaming, terrified passengers and/or the competency of the pilots to handle such maneuvers, not so much limitations of fixed-wing aircraft themselves. While some of the maneuvers discussed above are not particularly stressful on the airframe when correctly performed, if you bungle them the result could be quite disastrous.

Last edited by Broomstick; 07-16-2009 at 03:37 PM..
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  #13  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:44 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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I could be wrong but I believe the roll I heard about was an actual airline flight with passengers and a normal pilot, not a test pilot flight.
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  #14  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:46 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mach Tuck View Post
Flying in the clouds is no joke. Most students are pretty well freaked out by the experience the first time they do it.
No kidding. My first actual IMC was when I was a student pilot flying solo. It was... horrible. I managed to safely land in a field (really, someone's oversized backyard) in Beecher, Illinois.

I haven't quite forgiven some of the jackasses who said I shouldn't have landed - I should have "simply" flown on to Gary airport, pretended to be instrument certified, and landed there. It was "only" another 10 miles, I could have covered that distance in, oh, seven minutes if I firewalled the throttle, right?

On the other hand - the flight instructors, the owner of the flight school and airplane, TWO Flight Standard District Offices, the FAA, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Lake County Indiana sheriff, a captain for Southwest Airlines, several former airline captains, and a whole bunch of other pilots (both VFR and IFR) all said I made the right call. And that's good enough for me. That, and the fact at the end of it all no one was hurt and nothing was broken.

And yes, I did have an... interesting conversation with the FAA, FSDO, and IDOT the next day. Not the most pleasant 40 minutes or so of my life.

I've stayed out of trouble since then.
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Old 07-16-2009, 03:51 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
I could be wrong but I believe the roll I heard about was an actual airline flight with passengers and a normal pilot, not a test pilot flight.
So far as I know the B707 test flight shown in the clip is the only time an airplane of that sort has been deliberately flown inverted for any length of time.

There was an airplane crash a few years ago off South America where there was a major instrument failure (actually, a double failure) during the night, during a storm, and according to the black boxes the aircraft did roll inverted or nearly so at one point before impact with the ocean. However, that was not a controlled situation at all.
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Old 07-16-2009, 03:57 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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Here's a story I was told once. I don't remember if the teller said it happened to him, or if it happened to someone else. I cannot vouch for its veracity.

A pilot was on a training flight with an instructor in a T-38. The pilot was put into simulated instrument conditions. [I note here that GA pilots wear a hood or Foggles or a similar vision-limiting device that allows the pilot to see the instruments but not outside of the aircraft. Older military training aircraft had a 'convertible top' that went over the pilot. I do not know the situation in a T-38. On-head devices as pictured would be problematic while wearing a helmet, and I've never seen a convertible hood on a T-38.] The instructor took the aircraft between two cloud layers, performing disorienting maneuvers so the pilot would not know which way was up. He then put the aircraft into a 1-g inverted dive and had the pilot go visual. Since they were between clouds (no ground reference) and in a 1-g dive, the pilot thought he was upright -- and was wondering why his altimeter was unwinding so rapidly.

Aside from the vision-limiting device, there are problems with this story that should be obvious. But given the right conditions it seems plausible.
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Old 07-16-2009, 04:15 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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Adding to what has already been said, a barrel roll at night with an older style artificial horizon can be very confusing. The older instruments were all black with white horizon markings on them. I had one stick on a hard banking climb out off the runway and if I didn't have ground lights it would have been very disorienting.
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Old 07-16-2009, 04:44 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
No kidding. My first actual IMC was when I was a student pilot flying solo. It was... horrible. I managed to safely land in a field (really, someone's oversized backyard) in Beecher, Illinois.

I haven't quite forgiven some of the jackasses who said I shouldn't have landed - I should have "simply" flown on to Gary airport, pretended to be instrument certified, and landed there. It was "only" another 10 miles, I could have covered that distance in, oh, seven minutes if I firewalled the throttle, right?

On the other hand - the flight instructors, the owner of the flight school and airplane, TWO Flight Standard District Offices, the FAA, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Lake County Indiana sheriff, a captain for Southwest Airlines, several former airline captains, and a whole bunch of other pilots (both VFR and IFR) all said I made the right call. And that's good enough for me. That, and the fact at the end of it all no one was hurt and nothing was broken.

And yes, I did have an... interesting conversation with the FAA, FSDO, and IDOT the next day. Not the most pleasant 40 minutes or so of my life.

I've stayed out of trouble since then.
7 minutes of dissoriented flight by a student is solidly in the "things not to do" column. It doesn't matter if GRY was up or not.
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Old 07-16-2009, 04:58 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magiver View Post
7 minutes of dissoriented flight by a student is solidly in the "things not to do" column. It doesn't matter if GRY was up or not.
Absolutely.

Our "emergency IFR for VFR pilots" drill at the school did incorporate finding the Chicago Heights VOR and using it to navigate to Gary (along with talking to ATC, of course) under the theory that this sort of crap was most likely to happen near home and, having practiced it, if a worst case scenario arose where a VFR pilot couldn't land the dry runs would have (hopefully) given them a reasonable chance of success at the maneuver. But landing IS the preferred option, student pilot or not, if you are NOT fully trained in IFR and you are able to make a survivable landing. THAT was sufficiently drummed into my head that when the shit hit the fan it didn't take a lot of brain power to make the right choice. Which was good, because I was 400 feet off the ground and only about 10 seconds from tangling with a radio tower at the time (yeah, my knees still get wobbly when I read over my official account and log book of what happened) and I needed all available brain cells to keep my wits together and perform a very atypical and difficult landing into a very small space. In fact, the space I landed in was too short for a take-off and someone with MUCH more experience was required to get the airplane out, which involved getting it into another field that was long enough for take off. Thank goodness I landed in knee deep hay, if I hadn't I probably would have gone through the side of the man's garage.

No, it wasn't a very good morning.... but at least the ending was happy.

About two years later some jerk in the pilot's lounge was spouting off that he didn't think much of my piloting skills and if I ever had to make an emergency landing I'd be screwed. He couldn't figure out why just after that everyone else was laughing at him and muttering about "hayfields". I'm not the most technically proficient pilot, but I do know I can handle an off airport landing.
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Old 07-16-2009, 05:11 PM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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Broomstick, after all that, you've got to tell us the tale.
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Old 07-16-2009, 06:05 PM
Richard Pearse Richard Pearse is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
I could be wrong but I believe the roll I heard about was an actual airline flight with passengers and a normal pilot, not a test pilot flight.
I remember reading a report of a jet that had a problem that resulted in it going into an unusual attitude and it was recovered "the long way around" so it ended up doing a roll. That maybe what you're thinking of.

To expand on what others have said about your body getting fooled, you are able to sense accelerations and you can tell roughly what g loading you are under i.e. you know if you feel normal, light, or heavy. Your middle ear can't sense steady states and it can't sense very small accelerations. To put this all into perspective, you can sense when you roll into a turn but you can't tell the difference between being established in a turn and being in straight/level flight.

What will happen is you will be flying straight then the aircraft will gradually roll into a turn. The rate of roll will be below your ability to sense it and you will still feel like you're flying straight. Then you notice something doesn't feel quite right, you look at the artificial horizon and notice you are banked, so you roll wings level. Great, except that you roll wings level at a rate your body can sense, so now your internal gyros have told you that you're flying straight (didn't perceive the initial roll) and are now telling you that you are rolling into a turn when you are actually rolling back to straight/level flight. At this stage, unless you're trained in instrument flight, you're probably going to be stuffed. Your eyes are telling you one thing (if you're still looking at the A/H) and your body is telling you something completely different. The sensations from your body are much more powerful than the information coming from your eyes and so you do what your body is telling you too.

You roll back to an angle that feels right but now you're banked in a turn. Because you're banked the nose drops a bit and you start losing altitude. You notice that you're descending so you pull back a bit on the controls to stop the descent. If you are banked enough, this will just tighten the turn and before you know it you are in a steep spiral dive.

A study some years ago showed that an average pilot, untrained in instrument flying, has about 3 minutes to live after entering cloud (assuming not enough clear sky below the cloud to recover.)

Last edited by Richard Pearse; 07-16-2009 at 06:07 PM..
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  #22  
Old 07-16-2009, 06:17 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quartz
Broomstick, after all that, you've got to tell us the tale.
Well, it's not real glamorous.

You do have to know that where I finished my private license is on the south end of Lake Michigan, where we can and do get "lake effect" weather. I took off to practice my S-turns and other maneuvers in preparation for my upcoming checkride. I had checked the weather and my plans had been OK'd by the flight instructor on duty (my regular instructor wasn't there at the time, but my early morning excursion had been planned in advance and the CFI on duty was stepping in to keep an eye on me). When I took off visibility was seven miles with a broken cloud layer at 12,000 feet, clearly Visual Flight Rules weather.

So... off I go. I'm merrily doing S-turns and steep turns and stuff like that when I suddenly realize things are getting hazy. Visibility is dropping. So I start off back home. I'm only about 25 miles away, in airplane that cruises at 100 mph so it should only be about 15 minutes to get back home, right? No problem.

Well, it kept getting hazier and hazier and the cloud layer wasn't broken anymore it was solid and starting to get lower. I knew I shouldn't be in the clouds so I flew under them. At a certain point I realize I'm only about 600 feet off the ground, no longer sure where I am, and the ground is starting to disappear into whiteness. THAT's when I realized I was in deep doo-doo.

I had been heading towards a radio tower as a landmark (get above tower. Turn left 90 degrees to a heading of north. That puts you right over the end of runway 09 at my home airport in about 5-6 minutes.) when I noted that I could no longer see it. I made a 180, as I had been instructed to do as a way of getting out of sudden low visibility. The problem was, it was no better behind than before and the clouds were forcing me still lower. I'm four hundred feet above the ground and just about ready for a brown alert in the underwear because I can barely make out the grass - or whatever - below me. I am setting up for a climb and dialing in the Gary ATC when realize I'm going over some sort of farm field. I thought "Hey, I could LAND there!" as I pass over it, basically dragging the field. At the end of it, I do another 180 and bring the airplane down.

Keep in mind, by that time it was so foggy that when the wheels touched down I couldn't see the other end of my "runway". I was scared to death some animal or human was going to be out in that field and I wouldn't see them in time to avoid a dreadful Bad Thing. I honestly don't know how fast I was going when I touched down, as I was straining to see what was ahead and hoping to god there wouldn't be any sudden obstacles. The stall horn burped as I touched down, and later I would note I had 40 degrees of flaps down though for the life of me I don't remember putting them down. Anyhow - it was like driving a pickup truck across a rutted farm field at 70 miles an hour, but far less stable. A rise the middle of the field threw me back up into the air briefly, and by applying full engine power briefly I managed to bring the nose up enough so I landed on the wheels and not the prop. I then yanked it back to idle because I knew there was very little room here.

When forward motion ceased everything that had been in the back of the airplane was now either on top of the panel or under it, mixed up with the right-side rudder pedals. The landing had actually blown the seat cushions off the empty passenger seat. I tried to turn off the engine but it didn't work the first time, so I managed to find the checklists (that was under the rightside rudder pedals) and figure out what I had neglected to do and got the prop to stop going around (Yeah, just a little shook up!).

I staggered out of the airplane, somewhat surprised my legs would hold me up and gratified I had not actually pissed in my pants. I swore and kicked at the landing gear, checked to make sure the airplane was secure, then headed over to the nearby house.

The gentleman who owned the house had been having his morning cup of coffee out on his back porch when I landed. I don't know what he had been expecting to get out of that Cessna 150, but it probably wasn't lil' ol' me, pigtails and all. Once we were over our mutual shock I asked to use his phone, which he had no problem with.

I then called the airport and got the receptionist, who was a little surprised that I was calling from somewhere else as I had not mentioned a cross country. I said I had a problem, I was alright, could I please speak with someone in authority? OK, no problem - the flight school director got on the line and I mentioned the sudden change in weather and that I had landed. The director said that was OK, just let him know what airport I had landed at and they'd send someone to pick me up.

I said I wasn't at an airport.

Absolute silence for about half a minute. Then he said "Oh."

Then I started babbling that I was OK and the airplane was probably OK and --

He cut me off and asked me where I was.

That's when I realized I didn't even know if I was in Illinois or Indiana. Oops. I asked the person who owned the phone, house, and field and then I relayed the address. The director asked if I could, possibly, fly the airplane out of the field when the weather cleared. I said not a chance, explained the lack of distance available, and said it would take a better pilot than me to get the airplane out. Personally, I was concerned they wouldn't be able to fly it out and would have to take it apart and drive it back on a truck trailer, then reassemble it, but did not mention that at the time. The director said they'd send someone out for me, just stay put.

Like I was going anywhere.

So, anyhow, the Lake County sheriff sends a chopper. By that time, the fog is lifting somewhat although visibility still sucks. Well, yeah, it's not like any other airplane was going to get in to that field. So out of the chopper steps the airport owner, who also owns the flight school and the airplane which is sitting in the middle of a small field in Illinois. He's the old guy who's all dour and intimidating looking and I haven't really met him before. It occurs to me that this may not be the best first impression. The owner goes over to the airplane, looks it over, still looking all dour and stern and old and grumpy. Then he comes over to me, towering over me, and says in his gruff voice "You OK?"

"Y-y-yeah"

He gives me one of those pats on the shoulder guys give each other, which almost knocks me off my feet and says "Good job on the landing - airplane looks fine. You can fly anything I own anytime. Now get in the chopper and go home."

So I climbed into the chopper. As we're about to take off I tell the deputy "No - wait! I want to see how he gets the airplane out of there!"

The deputy looks at me. "Are you nuts? You almost crashed an airplane, and now you want to hang out here 10 feet above the ground and watch that guy do some crazy barnstorming shit to get off the ground?"

"Uh... yeah. I do."

The chopper pilot laughs, says I've the flying bug bad, and says I'll do alright. So we sit there, 10 feet above the ground, and watch the Old Dude get the airplane out of the field. He took a couple ground runs, probably judging acceleration and ground conditions, then set up for a textbook shortfield landing, goes for it, and when he approaches the fence on the far side, still not quite going fast enough to fly, he pulled back to "jump" over the fence, land on the other side, then finished the take off roll on the far side of the fence.

The airplane followed the chopper back to the airport. Both those guys were instrument rated and knew where they were going, so I didn't worry about it although I would not have wanted to fly even with the "improved" visibility. A mechanic was waiting, and declared the airplane fit to fly. I then had to go home, TOTALLY freak out my husband, get a shower, get dressed, and go to work.

The next day I was also scheduled to fly, but told to show up an hour and a half early as there were some people who wanted to talk to me. Now, in an emergency a pilot had very broad authority but after the emergency is resolved can be called upon to justify any and all of her actions. Which is exactly what the talking was all about. As I said, not the most comfortable morning I've ever had, but not as bad as the day prior. I was cleared of all wrong doing, the FAA and FSDO guys thanked me for not making them fill out the paperwork on a dead pilot (yes, they really did phrase it like that) and praised my handling of the emergency, although they weren't exactly happy with me getting into the mess in the first place.

Then I went out, preflighted the airplane, and took my scheduled lesson.

As to what the hell happened -- when the water of Lake Michigan and the land adjacent to it are of different temperatures, a shift in the wind can cause an air mass above the lake to slide up over the land and generate a hefty fog bank. This is NOT fog rolling in - it's air rolling in and turning into fog. I didn't fly into a fog bank, it formed up around me. The wind had shifted from west to north, off Lake Michigan, and set up conditions for instant fog.

Now, in retrospect, if the same thing happened to me again today (which I fervently try to avoid!) I might opt to either climb to around 4000 feet when the visibility started to drop - since lake effect weather usually doesn't extend much about 3000 and in any case would get me above ground obstacles - and go south, out of the range of the weather effect. But I won't say for sure, because any bad situation has to be dealt with as it is, which doesn't always conform to theory. If I can't get away from the fog bank fast enough I might wind up landing in a field again if that seems the best choice. I also pay a LOT more attention to wind direction (if it's coming off the big lake I'm very cautious) and keep a much better eye on the distant horizon in all directions.

Definitely one of the more educational flights I've made, and the lessons have sunk it, but it was pretty rough at the time.

And, oh yes, two days later my husband bought me my first cell phone and insisted I carry it - cause next time I wind up in a field there may not be a phone I can borrow nearby. My protest that I intended to stay out of fields in the future made no impact, as he pointed out that I hadn't intended to land in that one, either.

Several months later my CFI took me on a planned flight into actual IMC, where I was able to both keep the airplane upright and navigate at the same time. Having a qualified IFR pilot and CFII sitting next to me did a lot for my stress levels, of course, as I trusted him to keep me from getting us killed. Not that I had any illusions that I was qualified to fly into clouds on my own - I'm not, and I did need help from him to complete the flight, but it was another interesting exercise and MUCH more pleasant than my prior encounter with clouds. I will state, though, that even in the very smooth conditions (the CFI took some pains to make the flight as easy as possible - no rough weather, for example, or low ceilings, or turbulence) and my familiarity with our planned route it was very difficult for me to do this and yes, at times disorienting. Even under "ideal" IFR conditions it was problematic - in any sort of rough weather at all, or after dark, or a combination of the two, I can see how a pilot could easily get into a serious problem if they didn't stay on top of the situation.
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Old 07-16-2009, 06:31 PM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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Awesome story, Broomstick, and very well told.
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Old 07-16-2009, 08:19 PM
mnemosyne mnemosyne is offline
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China Airlines 006 suffered an engine flameout at 41 000 ft ASL which led to asymmetric thrust and resulted in the plane rolling and pitching down. The pilots managed to regain control of the aircraft at 9500 ft. There were two severe injuries and substantial damage to the aircraft. Here is the NTSB report.
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Old 07-16-2009, 08:41 PM
mnemosyne mnemosyne is offline
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Sorry for the double post... I just can't help myself. The NTSB report states

Quote:
the airplane pitched down and rolled to the right. The nosedown pitch angle reached 69° and, by the time the airplane had descended to 30,000 feet, it had almost completed a 360° right roll and had pitched upward to about 11° nosedown pitch attitude.
The plane was a 747SP, a modification of the 747-100.
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Old 07-16-2009, 08:57 PM
mnemosyne mnemosyne is offline
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Because I really can't help myself... that China Airlines plane was repaired and returned to service; this photo is from 2005. So a 747 can do a 360 and the airframe will survive.
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Old 07-16-2009, 11:51 PM
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Well, it's not real glamorous.
But still a most instructive tale and well told.
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Old 07-17-2009, 12:11 AM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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Because I really can't help myself... that China Airlines plane was repaired and returned to service; this photo is from 2005. So a 747 can do a 360 and the airframe will survive.
Not to carry paying passengers though. That one was only returned into service as a private plane for hippies with a cargo hold full of marijuana to spread around the world.
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Old 07-17-2009, 04:28 AM
Oukile Oukile is offline
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There are a number of ways to become disoriented in flight through bodily perception, and visual illusions. I've found that no matter how much a person reads about it or is told about it, there's no way to know how they're going to react until placed in actual IMC ("instrument meteorological conditions").
Vestibular researcher here !

As a matter of fact, altough I have never been in a plane (except an airliner), I have quite some experience of what you are talking about, thenks to our fancy NASA-like 3D rotating chair, our centrifuge, and so on...

Well, first of all let me tell you how much I enjoyed this post. Seven years of vestibular research have made me really curious about flying, an in perticular about the motions illusions one experience while flying. One of these days I'll contact some colleagues at the NASA. I'm sure they could arrange me some funny rides in fancy machines. Meanwhile, I can only enjoy the splendid narrations such as I find in this thread... and all of the rides that I want on my chair.

I have little to add to what pilots here have already said, except maybe a little bit of vestibular physiology. So, basically, we perceive self-motion in space through the vestibular system (so-called 'equillibrium organ') in the inner ear.

- First kind of illusion: we sense gravity though the otolith, which are, in very rough approximation, a set of little (damped) pendulums inside of a box (the box = the head in our analogy). Most of the time they do their job at indicating vertical when you tilt the head. However, they will swing around if you shake the box (= running) or they will be deviated if you place the box in a centrifuge. The brain is good at dealing with the running situation (it will correctly interpret the swinging around of the otoliths as a linear acceleration) but will get fooled during the centrifugation. Hence the false perception of vertical when an aircraft turns.

Even non-pilots know how strong is this effect. When one sits in an airplane which is about to land, it frequently makes series of turns, during which one looses the perception of vertical. As a consequence, one will 'see' that the horizon is tilted. Given the fact that the brain usually interprets the visual horizon as a reference for horizontal, it really takes a powerfull illusion to create this feeling.


- Second kind: we sense rotations through the semiricular canals. These are basically circular tubes filled with a liquid (the endolymph). When you rotate the tube, the endolymph tends to remain stationnary in space. The relative displacement between the canal and the endolymph is detected and results in a rotation signal which is sent to the brain.
Here, the problem is that after a while the endolymph begins rotating together with the canal, and the rotation signal fades away. This is what gives you this delighfull feeling of irreality when you are dancing the waltz with a beautifull partner. But this is also what tricks unexperienced pilots who want to make a turn. As time passes, they will increase their turn in order to maintain their perception. This is called the 'death spiral', if I'm correct.


So far, I guess all pilots knew what I said. Let me add a little bit about the ability of human brain to process motion information:
- most of our responses to motion (postural adjustments, vestibulo-ocular reflex) are driven by 'raw' motion information which come directly from the sensors and work fine in everyday's life. In contrast, more 'cognitive' functions, i.e. tracking your orientation in space require central integration of motion cues in the brainsteam and the cortex. Bad news: we humans suck at this. In perticular, we can keep a central estimate of rotation only up to 20°/s. If we are to perform a barrel roll at 30°/s (i.e. one turn in 12s), we will still manage to track the vertical thanks to our otolith. But above 60°/s even the otolith fail ! Their activation will be interpreted like a linear motion of the head ('the box being shaken'). During constant roll rotation at, say, 90°/s, humans feel like they are upright all of the time, and oscillating strongly upward-downward and sideward. I suspect that various kind of 'strong' maneuvers can saturate the central vestibular system.


We can generate some pretty fancy kind of sensory stimulations with our chair. Experience shows that these have a strong 'emotive' impact, even for us who know in advance what is going to happen (like 'oh my god this is impossible I can't be moving like that it feels like aaaaaaaaaaah I'm falliiiiiing', although we are in fact not moving and we know it). I can imagine how it feels when you have a plane to pilot on the same time !
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Old 07-17-2009, 06:48 AM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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How do they know this was the cause of JFK Jr.'s crash? Do they rule out all other reasons such as plane mechanical problems?
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Old 07-17-2009, 07:33 AM
Richard Pearse Richard Pearse is offline
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They rule out mechanical problems for the aircraft and physiological problems for the pilot. Then they have to come up with a most likely scenario based on the pilot's experience, the weather conditions at the time and any other information they may have, eye witness accounts, ATC radio recordings, etc.
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Old 07-17-2009, 07:41 AM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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Broomstick, that met the dictionary definition of "a great landing", didn't it? As in, not only did you walk away from it but the aircraft was still usable.

Ditto on the "well told". :applauds:
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Old 07-17-2009, 08:45 AM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Another few pence.

I recall a flying article/experiment where they took pilots (and they may have even been experienced pilots) up in a plane. They would then block their vision so they could not see outside the plane, like you would get in fog or in a cloud or perhaps at night with cloud cover.

Virtually every pilot, if not every pilot, lost control. Most only took a fraction of minute. Even the good ones only made it a few minutes before spiralling out of control.

If you dont have the right instruments AND training AND skill to use them, flying without visual cues is extremely dangerous.

Last edited by billfish678; 07-17-2009 at 08:47 AM..
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Old 07-17-2009, 08:57 AM
Llama Llogophile Llama Llogophile is online now
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Originally Posted by Oukile View Post
We can generate some pretty fancy kind of sensory stimulations with our chair.
I know someone who participated in NASA research in "the chair". It was on the KC-135 "Vomit Comet" while flying zero-G arcs. He was told nod his head up and down, eyes closed, while they spun him around. Something to do with studying motion sickness.

He tells me it... "worked".


Question for you: Are you familiar with "somatographic illusion"? When a person focuses on a single point of light, it appears to move around. Supposedly, a pilot doing so could overcontrol the plane and become disoriented.

This is one of those teaching points where I tell the students about it, but have no direct experience. Is this a common phenomenon?

But I'll again point out that pilots strive to never reach the point of true disorientation. When flying on instruments, the rules of the day are:

- Keep scanning the instruments. Don't spend more than 3 seconds or so away from the panel.

- Make small control inputs so you don't cause a major perturbation.

- Ignore your bodily senses because they WILL be wrong.
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Old 07-17-2009, 10:09 AM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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A very typical scenario for a 'graveyard spiral is this:

The airplane is flying along in the clouds, and a wing slowly drops. The pilot does not detect this.

The airplane starts a descending turn, because it loses lift when the wing drops.

The pilot, not trained in instrument flying, doesn't realize anything is wrong until substantial speed and bank has built up. The pilot finally cues in because of the change of engine pitch, or wind noise, or because the pilot sees the altimeter unwinding.

The pilot pulls back on the stick, thinking he or she is in a dive. This has the effect of simply tightening the spiral.

The velocity picks up rapidly, the altimeter is unwinding like crazy, the pilot is yanking back on the control stick in panic, and the airplane spirals right into the ground.

At a certain point, the plane may be going down so fast that even if the pilot realizes what's going on, it's big trouble, because if the pilot manages to roll the wings level, the sudden lifting force will be so great that it will rip the wings off - especially if the pilot is still pulling back on the stick. So you actually have to push forward on the stick as you roll level - a move that is completely counter to every instinct screaming in the pilot's head.

What makes all this very likely is a phenomenon in the brain which causes us to lose our lateral thinking ability when panicking. Under conditions of stress, our brains go into a sort of flight or fight mode: "Runrunrunrun! PullPullPullPull!" This is why people have burned to death because in a panic mode they couldn't figure out a simple door latch. In aviation, we try to overcome this through repetitive training, checklists, and conditioning.

Even trained pilots can fall prey to this. I remember one airline accident that was traced back to a faulty autopilot system. The pilots had faith in the autopilot and their own senses, and simply refused to believe the instruments. The cockpit voice recording had them talking about the 'broken altimeter' because it was unwinding so fast, and they let the airplane just fly itself right into the ground.

Last edited by Sam Stone; 07-17-2009 at 10:11 AM..
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Old 07-17-2009, 10:12 AM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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If a pilot is not trained in full instrument flying ,they should still know how to look at and read instruments, is that correct?
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Old 07-17-2009, 10:24 AM
Telemark Telemark is online now
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Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
If a pilot is not trained in full instrument flying ,they should still know how to look at and read instruments, is that correct?
Knowing what to do isn't the same as trusting the instruments over what your body is telling you.
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Old 07-17-2009, 10:28 AM
Oukile Oukile is offline
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Originally Posted by Mach Tuck View Post
I know someone who participated in NASA research in "the chair". It was on the KC-135 "Vomit Comet" while flying zero-G arcs. He was told nod his head up and down, eyes closed, while they spun him around. Something to do with studying motion sickness.

He tells me it... "worked".
Jaaaa, the so-called vestibular coriolis effect (the name is not really correct since it has little to do with the coriolis force). Mother of all motion sickness stimuli.
What happens is that your canals are sensitive to angular acceleration. An angular acceleration is a change in the angular velocity in a head-fixed frame of reference. You follow me ?
Suppose that you sit on a rotating chair with your head tilted backward. The axis of rotation, relative to your head, is going up and a little forward. Now you tilt your head forward. The axis of rotation is now going backward relative to your head. If you plot a vector along this axis, which length is equal to the angular velocity of the chair, you see that this vector rotates backward (still with me ?) Take the difference between the vector while pitch forward and backward, and you obtain a vector which is parallell to your naso-occipital axis.
That's a little bit of geometry, but so, the result is that everytime you pitch your head while rotating on the chair, you are activating your canals in a way which tell you that you are turning in roll.
Problem (on earth): you are actually not turning in roll. And your otolith tell you that you are not. So you induce a conflict between canals and otolith. And your brain does not like it. Hence the sickness !
As a matter of fact, there was no otolith signal since he was flying zero G. I guess that this is what the guys wanted to measure... funny that he got sick anyway. Well, people get sick anyway on zero-G planes. No wonder it's called 'Vomit comet'.

Btw, I've been giving myself these kind of stimuli (on earth). I can tell you, when the chair rotates 150°/s and I pitch 90°, I feel it ! I actually gave myself the illusion that I was tilted 45° in roll. While my otoliths were telling me that I was sitting upright. That rocks !

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mach Tuck View Post
Question for you: Are you familiar with "somatographic illusion"? When a person focuses on a single point of light, it appears to move around. Supposedly, a pilot doing so could overcontrol the plane and become disoriented.

This is one of those teaching points where I tell the students about it, but have no direct experience. Is this a common phenomenon?
Uuuuh... somatographic illusion if the fact that you loose the sense of verticality when an aircraft accelerates forward. Am I correct ? I guess that it could lead you to see the point moving, but then it would have to be a really violent acceleration.

It is again this otolith-being-sensitive-to-both-gravity-and-acceleration thing. I generally explain it like this: suppose that you sit on a car. If the car is tilted backward, you will feel an increase of the pressure of the seat on your back. If you accelerate the car forward, you will feel the same kind of pressure. So you could confuse forward acceleration or backward pitch. What happens is that the otolith will get confused the same way, and that your brain will favour the backward pitch perception. That's because (think to our ancestor cavemen) we have evoved in an environment when backward pitch are common, but high forward accelerations are not.
Then comes the danger. If you believe your senses just after you take-off, then you are going to overestimate the backward pitch of your plane, and so you will try to pitch forward to compensate. Bad.

A common instance of this illusion is when you drive a car uphill or downhill. You tend to involontary slow down as you drive uphill, and accelerate as you go downhill. It is exactly the same effect, just slightly more complex since you are summing up some real acceleration and some real tilt.
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Old 07-17-2009, 10:40 AM
Oukile Oukile is offline
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Originally Posted by Mach Tuck View Post
I know someone who participated in NASA research in "the chair". It was on the KC-135 "Vomit Comet" while flying zero-G arcs. He was told nod his head up and down, eyes closed, while they spun him around. Something to do with studying motion sickness.

He tells me it... "worked".
Ahaaaaa... that would have been in the late 60's, maybe ?
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Old 07-17-2009, 11:22 AM
Llama Llogophile Llama Llogophile is online now
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Uuuuh... somatographic illusion if the fact that you loose the sense of verticality when an aircraft accelerates forward. Am I correct ?
You are - I used the wrong term with my description. I was asking about "autokinesis" (a type of visual illusion), and mistakenly called it somatographic illusion.

So do you know anything about autokinesis? I've never experienced it myself, and I wonder how common it really is.
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Old 07-17-2009, 11:36 AM
Oukile Oukile is offline
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You are - I used the wrong term with my description. I was asking about "autokinesis" (a type of visual illusion), and mistakenly called it somatographic illusion.

So do you know anything about autokinesis? I've never experienced it myself, and I wonder how common it really is.
Well, I don't know the autokinesis... I could try this easily since we have plenty of dark rooms where we can put a laser dot... but not today, as I just had a couple of glasses of Champagne since one ouf our colleagues is leaving the lab.

The wikipedia article here seems nice. One possible reason could be that the brain gets wrong about how the eye move after some second of sustained fixation.

If you want to see how your eyes moving without the brain knowing it gives you the illusion of things moving, you can getly press the bottom of the eyeball through the lid with one finger. As this causes the eye to move, you will se the image through this eye move too.
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Old 07-17-2009, 12:21 PM
GusNSpot GusNSpot is offline
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While I was taking my PVT Pilot check ride.....

The examiner, who was a good friend of my instructor, had been clued into one of my ego problems. That was the fact that I was very hard to confuse on 'Unusual Attitudes' because I was pretty good at following what was really happening. ( I had been riding in airplanes since I was just a gleam in my Dad's eye. My family had always had small planes.) Near the end of my flight test, I was under the hood doing the 'Unusual Attitudes' and he was so good and so smooth, took so long while just flying around, ( Taking much more time than any instructor had worked to get me into a good case of 'vertigo'.), that when he told me to take off the hood. my brain was so convinced that we were in a medium descending left turn that when I opened my eyes, that is what I saw as I looked out side. Then with yet no input from me or change of aircraft attitude, I saw the horizon quickly rotate and descend to the correct position. I was so convinced that "I knew" what my attitude was that my brain saw what it expected to see. (Very valuable lesson and that along with a couple of great instructors taught me during my training for my instrument ticket those things which have kept me alive so far.)

Fast forward several hundred hours to the time I was working on my instrument ticket. Ugh, I always seemed to get vertigo within 10 to 15 minutes into flying on instruments alone. It turned out that my brained seemed to go to the 'descending right turn most of the time.

Now, most pilots should and do practice for when or if they encounter vertigo, and how to recognize the early onset of the condition, some even can learn to get out of it or if they are in smooth condition and flying straight and level, will naturally regain normalcy. Fortunately for me, I don't recover.... Why do I think that for me, this is a good thing? Because I anm alive today as an old pilot.......

I never had to worry about vertigo, worry about catching it early, worry about being able to rely on my instruments and ignore what my brain was screaming about what it thought the aircraft was doing, trusting my instruments or practicing what to do when I got vertigo.

I always got it early and bad, so it was my normal fight condition. The only thing others might notice was that I tended to fly with my head tipped to the left while flying on instruments....

This allowed me to move my head a lot, glance down, not be affected by flashing strobe lights from improper location or installation on the aircraft. All the other things that can and will induce vertigo into normal pilots. I never have had to practice over the years what and how to personally overcome vertigo while in IMC. It was my normal condition. I just eventually became so accustomed to it that, even though I 'always remembered and never forgot' about it, I could actually enjoy some of the stranger things that can happen while in instrument conditions. Long hours hand flying aircraft without auto pilots in all kinds of instrument conditions was not the totally draining time that it is for most pilots. I could watch the build up ice on the aircraft because I could swivel my head at will, (Joy, Joy... ) watch the wing tip appear and disappear in the blink of an eye while we flashed through boiling clouds, the wonderful effects of partial sun light penetrating the clouds I was flying through.

I still do not like to ride behind the center of gravity in aircraft, sit facing backwards, be a passenger in small aircraft or cars while on twisty and bumpy rides, but...... All in all I have been blessed with this affliction and without out it me and my passengers over the years are alive because of it.

The mind will see what it wants to see or expects to see long enough to kill you under many conditions and as a pilot, we are operating in the area where a majority of those things are common occurrences.... Take heed of what Broomstick and the other pilots in this thread have stated, and be glad of the constant professionalism on the boring daily flights of the worlds airline pilots, it is something to be applauded.

YMMV
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Old 07-17-2009, 12:38 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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I haven't quite forgiven some of the jackasses who said I shouldn't have landed - I should have "simply" flown on to Gary airport, pretended to be instrument certified, and landed there. It was "only" another 10 miles, I could have covered that distance in, oh, seven minutes if I firewalled the throttle, right?
Excuse my jackassness but as someone who is not a pilot can you explain to me why landing in a field better than flying another 10 miles to the airport?
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Old 07-17-2009, 01:15 PM
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Excuse my jackassness but as someone who is not a pilot can you explain to me why landing in a field better than flying another 10 miles to the airport?
That's how a lot of people die--they're not qualified on instruments (only visual, in which you have to know how to read certain instruments, but not all, and are dependent upon seeing the visual horizon to maintain your situational awareness). Trying to fly either under the weather, which is getting lower (as happened in the story), or deciding to fly up into the goo (where you can't see anything, like mountains, radio towers, power lines, other aircraft, etc) is extremely dangerous and stupid. Going up into the goo in the hopes that you'll break out on top is also stupid, as you really don't know how high the ceiling goes, and chances are you'll have to descend back into the goo on the way to the ground. And, there's that period of being the goo when you're unqualified to fly on instruments--that alone can get you into trouble.

Last edited by flyboy; 07-17-2009 at 01:18 PM..
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Old 07-17-2009, 01:20 PM
hibernicus hibernicus is offline
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Excuse my jackassness but as someone who is not a pilot can you explain to me why landing in a field better than flying another 10 miles to the airport?
In all probability she would not have made it back to Gary. We will never know, because she didn't attempt it. But there is a good chance that if she had attempted to continue her flight in IMC, she would have become disoriented and crashed. She made the right choice.

Flying into cloud when you are not instruments rated feels like having someone throw a blanket across the windshield of your car when you are driving at freeway speed. It's terrifying and frequently fatal. Your best chance of survival is to fly a 180 degree turn to fly back in the direction you have come from.
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Old 07-17-2009, 01:27 PM
flyboy flyboy is offline
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One of the most amazing videos (at least, IMO), demonstrating rolling at 1g. Bob Hoover, a legendary pilot, pours iced tea into a cup (in the cockpit) while rolling a jet.
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Old 07-17-2009, 01:29 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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Excuse my jackassness but as someone who is not a pilot can you explain to me why landing in a field better than flying another 10 miles to the airport?
She was a student pilot which means she was still learning to fly. Getting disoriented in a plane is deadly and the event cycle of a fatal accident is measured in seconds.

She was at a REALLY low altitude to start with and going inverted or stalling the plane is not recoverable (by anyone). Another 100 hrs of flying would have made a big difference in her skill sets but in all cases of flight, the most important thing to do is make good decisions. She made a good decision.

Last edited by Magiver; 07-17-2009 at 01:31 PM..
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Old 07-17-2009, 01:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
If a pilot is not trained in full instrument flying ,they should still know how to look at and read instruments, is that correct?
Let me explain disorientation to you. Take your car to an empty parking lot and switch feet on the pedals. You should be prepared to pull the parking brake and turn the ignition off because you will find yourself in trouble quickly.

Imagine doing that while maintaining 3 axis of control and no visual queues. If you wreck your car you'l have the advantage of a full steel cage and airbags to keep you alive versus a seatbelt and a little tin around you in an airplane going over 100 mph when it stops.
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Old 07-17-2009, 01:42 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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Probably a silly question but I'll ask anyway:

Do pilots ever think they could parachute out of their plane if they run into problems such as engine problems? This assumes they know how to parachute and have one on the plane. I also know most planes are not suited to have someone parachute out, but some are. My guess is there is not enough time so the whole issue is not worth thinking about.
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Old 07-17-2009, 01:50 PM
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You'd have to strap on a parachute, then try climbing into a small cockpit. It would be difficult, especially in a low-wing bird like a Cherokee. Getting out would even more difficult. Would it be possible? Yeah, but most, if not all, folks would rather trust to their skill and try to land the thing. However, newer planes do have an emergency parachute in case the sh*t does hit the fan.

Last edited by flyboy; 07-17-2009 at 01:52 PM..
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