Losing Orientation

Getting at the real-world causes of spatial disorientation.

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A common night disorientation scenario is transiting from an area with many lights to empty countryside with few scattered lights (or none at all). I distinctly remember my first experience with night disorientation. I was a VFR-only pilot at the time and did not have a good instrument scan, nor much night experience, but thought I was proficient enough. I was flying from Boise to American Falls, Idaho, in a rented two-seat Alarus. The plane was painfully slow, so instead of flying over the highway, I hit the Direct To button on the GPS so I could fly the shortest path over the empty sagebrush back to the airport. Between the lack of lights and the moonless night, I strayed significantly off-course more than a few times. I knew my saving grace was the magenta line that I was able to keep pointed ahead.
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