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PPL » Human Factors » Spatial Orientation

10.22 Spatial Orientation

10.22.2 Define spatial orientation.

Orientation is knowing which way is up and whether you are leaning sideways, backwards or forwards. 

The main organs which help us to keep our balance, orientation, and tell us if we are moving are those in the:

  • inner ear. 
    • the semi-circular canals and
    • the vestibular sacs. 


Together these are called the vestibular systems.


10.22.4 Define disorientation.

Disorientation is a state of confusion or loss of spatial orientation and awareness of one's surroundings.

It can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • sensory deprivation,
  • sensory overload,
  • illness,
  • injury, or
  • exposure to unfamiliar or extreme environments.


Disorientation can lead to difficulty with navigation, perception, and decision-making, and can be dangerous.


The flying environment provides a high potential for conflict of orientation information to the brain.

Any change in aircraft attitudes, outside visibility, G forces and/or speed, can tax the human orientation system to its limit.

At times, conditions encountered will exceed the limit.

When this occurs, the pilot is said to be disorientated.

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