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
  • 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

  • In the descriptions of these maneuvers, the instructor pilot is doing the flying, but having the pilot do the flying can also be a very effective demonstration
  • The pilot should close his or 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 closed and head tilted
  • While it is clear the pilot has no idea of the actual attitude, he or 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 experiences the disorientation while flying the aircraft

All procedures here are GENERALIZED for learning.
Fly the maneuver in accordance with the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)


  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 help lessen the occurrence and degree of disorientation through a better understanding of the relationship between aircraft motion, head movements, and resulting disorientation
  4. They help instill a greater confidence in relying on flight instruments for assessing true aircraft attitude

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 50° bank) 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:
  • 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 can create this sensation
  • 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
  • This creates the illusion of the body 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
  • This creates the illusion of a strong sense of rotation in the opposite direction
  • After this illusion is noted, the pilot should open his or her 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 tilts his or her head forward, looks to the right or left, then immediately returns his or her head to an upright position
  • The instructor pilot should time the maneuver so the roll is stopped as the pilot returns his or her head upright
  • An intense disorientation is usually produced by this maneuver, and the pilot experiences the sensation of falling downward into the direction of the roll

Practical Test Standards:

  • This is not a required maneuver, it is purely demonstration at the discretion of the instructor pilot