Is NASA barking up the wrong tree with its “large transport aircraft upset recovery research programme?”
While I’m sure that the human factors, physiological and psychological results of testing pilots in centrifuges will be scientifically interesting, I’m not so sure they will be useful.
NASA is not the first organisation to do research on why pilots become disorientated. The NTSB’s senior human performance investigator Dr William Bramble, having done lots of research on what happens in real cases, suggests the most useful solution is an education for pilots about the physiological and psychological causes of disorientation, including the fact that distractions from instrument flying are frequently a precursor to it. He points out that distractions during a turn at night or in instrument meteorological conditions were common to all the recent serious disorientation cases that actually caused fatal airline accidents.
The point I think NASA may be missing is this: when pilots look up at the instrument panel and see a picture that is totally different from what they expected to see - in fact it feels unbelievable because of preconceived notions about what is really going on - the SOP is to believe the instruments. Human sensory organs are so easily fooled that sensory misperceptions are a major part of the disorientation problem. So successful recovery from an upset entails blanking out any “seat-of-the-pants” physiological sensations and recovering the aircraft to straight and level flight (plus safe flying speed) purely according to what you see on the displays.
Doing tests that prove the human senses are easily fooled and that full flight simulators are no good at representing sustained accelerations is a waste of time because these are known truths.