In a story recently published on Popular Science, the U.S. Air Force Safety Center revealed, for the first time, how the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS) saved three F-22s and their pilots from crashing. Since it was first installed aboard fighter jets, the system has been now credited for saving 12 F-16s and three F-22s from crashing, with spatial disorientation being the most common cause for the dangerous attitude that triggered the automatic recovery.
Spatial Disorientation is the inability to determine one’s position, location, and motion relative to their environment. This can happen not only in fighter jets, but in every type of aircraft, both military and civilian. A situation that commonly causes Spatial-D is the flight in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), where bad visibility conditions would prevent a pilot from using external reference points and, in some cases, his senses would stop to “agree” with the current attitude of the aircraft. For an instance, the pilot’s senses could be tricked to think the aircraft is in level flight, while in reality it is in an inverted dive.