1. Plan: You need to have a basic game plan to recover the aircraft. This should have been hammered into your brain in pilot training. Effective and thorough flight planning, plus an organized cockpit, will reduce the chances of task saturation, situational awareness issues, channelized attention and mis-prioritization -- all areas that contribute to spatial disorientation. A backup plan with several options will give you the capability to always have an "out." Realize it can happen to anyone, especially if fatigued, regardless of your experience or proficiency. So be ready!

2. Anticipate: You need to plan on experiencing spatial D on every flight and be ready for it, especially if you're stepping out into marginal weather or you know you'll be flying close formation in weather or at night. For a night ocean crossing mission in a fighter, you'll most likely experienced spatial D so be ready to be trapped over the North Atlantic with no options but to focus and recover. The more proficient you are in your aircraft with recent experience, the less likely you'll experience spatial D (if you've been out of the cockpit for more than three weeks, your chance of spatial D increases). Takeoff and landing, air refueling and tactical operations (low altitude in hazy weather, for example) are critical areas where you will have a higher chance of experiencing spatial D, so anticipate it. Also be ready for it during dynamic and demanding phases of flight and/or when there are other preconditions. Weather, night, formation, night vision goggles, fatigue, hypoxia, G stress, emotional compartmentalization issues, to name a few, are potential areas for distractions which increase your chances for a breakdown in your crosscheck. They can all lead to spatial disorientation.

3. Recognize: If you do experience spatial D, the first step is to recognize the situation. The faster you're able to do this, the greater the survival rate for you and your aircraft.

4. Confirm: Next, you need to confirm the spatial D. Crosscheck all instruments to confirm your attitude. If you hear a lot of wind noise, you're probably headed toward dirt. If in close formation, you might be straight and level, so take a quick peek at the heads up display. It's very difficult to suppress information from unreliable sources (your vestibular system) when in formation. You just have to hang tight and concentrate on flying.

5. Recover: Execute a nose low or high unusual attitude as you were taught in pilot training. If you're in close formation, recovering might just be simply getting into the correct position. Many times you're straight and level and it just seemed you were in a turn because you were riding high or low on your flight lead.

-- Retired Lt. Col. Ned Linch