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Technique: Unusual AttitudeTechnique: Unusual Attitude

Shaking up your inner ear

Illustration by Charles Floyd

The federal aviation regulations require three hours of instruction on flight by reference to instruments, and unusual attitude recovery is part of that curriculum. It’s intended to help you recover from spatial disorientation, wake turbulence, or other disorienting events in flight.

Humans have evolved to maintain spatial orientation on the ground. In the three dimensions of airspace, humans use sensory stimuli—what they can see, hear, or feel—along with the vestibular system, the organ of equilibrium, located in the inner ear. When these signals are disrupted, such as if you were to fly into a cloud, your body might tell you that the aircraft is doing something that it isn’t. You must rely on the instruments to recover.

Your instructor will put you under the hood or another view-limiting device and instruct you to close your eyes and put your head down. Next, your CFI will put the airplane into an abnormal climbing, descending, or steeply banked attitude. Bonus points if your CFI can maneuver so as to create vestibular illusions (see “Fooling the Inner Ear”). When you look up, you must figure out what the airplane is doing and react accordingly.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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