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Autopsy: Reno Air Race

by spike.com   July 30, 2009 at 11:52AM  |  Views: 1,657

Spatial orientation is a term that describes the ability to maintain the body’s reference point with respect to the surrounding environment. On regular ground it is relatively easy to stay spatially oriented since the body uses several internal body-righting management systems including the vestibular system of the inner ear, sight, and other senses that function well when the body is both standing and moving. But in the air, it is far more difficult as only the horizon is available. When the horizon is lost or the mind thinks it is seeing something else, the body becomes lost and “space” becomes large and consuming. Without the visual reference of the horizon, the connection between perception and sensory function becomes mismatched and the effects of gravity take over and cause spatial disorientation. For many, this is why you get “sea sick” or nauseous when driving and reading. Thus, the only way to fly is to use the plane’s instruments and fight the body’s desire to re-orient. If you become disoriented, you lose control of your aircraft until you gain perspective and find the horizon. If you end up upside down, so too is your horizon, and you are in a world of hurt. The attempt to re-right the plane against gravity, speed, acceleration, and G forces can cause a host of major problems leading to catastrophic circumstances. Considering these issues, racing around a track where the plane is almost perpendicular to the ground, makes the possibility of spatial disorientation a huge concern, especially for someone who is used to using his instinct and visual perception. Jesse will have his hands full trying to combat a feeling that he has never really experienced.

Jesse needs to prepare by taking a test that forces him to rely on instruments rather than instinct. Since it is unrealistic for him to spend hundreds of hours in a plane working on his skills, we set up the only test we know that could challenge him. Take away his sight and have him navigate a truck at night using instrumentation only. This “crash course” in piloting without visual references proves more of a challenge than Jesse anticipates. Will he be able to handle a plane moving at over 300 mph if he has trouble navigating a car at 50 mph?

Flying a plane is difficult to begin with. Pilots spend thousands of hours learning to control their plane and navigate before even considering to the push the limits of a plane first built before most of them were born. One wrong move in the air and it's lights out! The fact that Jesse is even trying to fly a plane let alone flying on a strict course at 50 feet above the ground is nuts and wrong at every level. But that is not enough for the legend of land feats. He has to go for broke pushing every aspect of his and the P-51s limits to avoid being permanently set to rest six feet under by a high speed crash in the desert of Reno.

David Sandler is the Science Advisor for 'Jesse James is a Dead Man', and President and Co-Founder of StrengthPro, Inc. He can be reached at info@strengthpro.com


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