Objective Evaluation of the Somatogravic Illusion from Flight Data of an Airplane Accident
Background: It is difficult for accident investigators to objectively determine whether spatial disorientation may have contributed to a fatal airplane accident. In this paper, we evaluate three methods to reconstruct the possible occurrence of the somatogravic illusion based on flight data recordings from an airplane accident. (2) Methods: The outputs of two vestibular models were compared with the “standard” method, which uses the unprocessed gravito-inertial acceleration (GIA). (3) Results: All three methods predicted that the changing orientation of the GIA would lead to a somatogravic illusion when no visual references were available. However, the methods were not able to explain the first pitch-down control input by the pilot flying, which may have been triggered by the inadvertent activation of the go-around mode and a corresponding pitch-up moment. Both vestibular models predicted a few seconds delay in the illusory tilt from GIA due to central processing and sensory integration. (4) Conclusions: While it is difficult to determine which method best predicted the somatogravic illusion perceived during the accident without data on the pilot’s pitch perception, both vestibular models go beyond the GIA analysis in taking into account validated vestibular dynamics, and they also account for other vestibular illusions. In that respect, accident investigators would benefit from a unified and validated vestibular model to better explain pilot actions in accidents related to spatial disorientation.
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