The collaboration between the Dutch research organisation TNO and Cranfield’s National Flying Laboratory Centre (NFLC) has resulted in a seminal joint scientific paper in Applied Ergonomics. The paper describes a study showing that spatial disorientation can induce false interpretation of the attitude indicator (ADI). The research was performed in NFLC’s Bulldog aircraft, skilfully flown by test pilot Simon Davies.

Forty non-pilot volunteers participated in the study, and were instructed to level the aircraft based on the ADI in three conditions. Each time the pilot put the aircraft in a roll attitude while the participants were blindfolded, before the participant was allowed to look at the ADI and take control. In one condition the maneuver was flown in a normal way so that the participant’s sensation matched the roll angle shown on the ADI. In two other conditions, the maneuver induced a false sensation of roll (the “Leans”) which did not match the angle shown on the ADI. In these two conditions, participants made 60% of erroneous control inputs, compared to 20% errors in the control condition.

The study was part of the PhD thesis of Dr. Annemarie Landman, entitled “Managing Startle and Surprise in the Cockpit”. Recently Annemarie graduated “cum laude” at the Delft University of technology. I am her Supervisor and Professor on behalf of Cranfield University, together with Dr. Rene van Paassen of Delft.

I am grateful to Prof. Nick Lawson and Simon Davies for this successful collaboration.

Link to the article: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000368701930136X

See also: https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/case-studies/research-case-studies/spatial-disorientation-and-expectation

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