A Maine flight instructor has developed an improved version of a training device that will let pilots safely experience the physical effects of spatial disorientation.
Michael Lessard of Sullivan, Maine, received a grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund in 2010 that helped him to create a design for a “vertigo chair” that he says is more lightweight, modular, and portable than those in use today. He debuted the device in May at the New England Aviation Safety Expo, and will hold a seminar on spatial disorientation at the American Bonanza Society’s annual convention, Oct. 26 through 29 in Las Vegas.
Spatial disorientation is something no pilot wants to experience. To lose visual references while flying can cause a pilot to lose control of the aircraft as the body misinterprets what it is seeing and sensing. VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions is the No. 1 cause of spatial disorientation, although it can also occur in visual meteorological conditions, according to the Air Safety Institute.
With few vertigo chairs available for training—and those primarily heavy, bulky, and stationary—Lessard said he wanted to bring spatial disorientation training to pilots and be able to respond more quickly to training requests. The training program consists of three segments: a discussion of the physiological aspects of vestibular orientation; a 3D re-creation of a high-profile spatial disorientation crash; and time in the chair, where participants are exposed to situations that cause spatial disorientation.
For more information on the program, as well as a schedule of upcoming training events, see the website.