We are all aware of the fact that the exploration of near space around the world has resulted in many significant technological advances, many of which can be found in our homes today. As exploration continues there will be many more advances, one of which may be able to help fledgling (and grizzled) pilots avoid one of the more significant problems we face - spatial disorientation.
The FAA claims that 10% of general aviation accidents are caused by spatial disorientation, and of those some 90% are fatal. While spatial disorientation in space has not resulted in any accidents, it remains a major concern for astronaut pilots. Enter NASA.
Ron Small, the principal systems engineer at Alion Science and Technology in Boulder, CO heads up a project involving special software which monitors the vehicle (say aircraft) and uses visual and audio cues to help orient pilots and keep them out of trouble before things get out of control. They are also testing the option of a vest with pager-like vibrations distributed throughout the vest which vibrate in sequence to alert the pilot when orientation correction is necessary.
Ron Small says the "It is really important that the system alert pilots in real-time, we’re not doing the pilot any good if we can only give advice after the fact.” Dr. Thomas Jones of the group states that
“Pilots of small planes often have less training in spatial disorientation and how to respond to an and their lives can be saved by having this extra help in the cockpit.”
What will they think of next?
Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!
An Airman Grace
Lord of thunderhead and sky
Who place in man the will to fly
Who taught his hand speed, skill and grace
To soar beyond man's dwelling place
You shared with him the Eagle's view
The right to soar, as Eagles do
The right to call the clouds his home
And grateful, through your heavens roam
May all assembled here tonight
And all who love the thrill of flight
Recall with twofold gratitude
Your gift of Wings, Your gift of Food.
— Father John MacGillivary, Royal Canadian Air Force