Visual misperception in aviation: Glide path performance in a black hole environment

Randy Gibb, Roger Schvaneveldt, Robert Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Objective: We sought to improve understanding of visual perception in aviation to mitigate mishaps in approaches to landing. Background: Research has attempted to identify the most salient visual cues for glide path performance in impoverished visual conditions. Numerous aviation accidents caused by glide path overestimation (GPO) have occurred when a low glide path was induced by a black hole illusion (BHI) in featureless terrain during night approaches. Method: Twenty pilots flew simulated approaches under various visual cues of random terrain objects and approach lighting system (ALS) configurations. Performance was assessed relative to the desired 3° glide path in terms of precision, bias, and stability. Results: With the high-ratio (long, narrow) runway, the overall performance between 8.3 and 0.9 km from the runway depicted a concave approach shape found in BHI mishaps. The addition of random terrain objects failed to improve glide path performance, and an ALS commonly used at airports induced GPO and the resulting low glide path. The worst performance, however, resulted from a combination ALS consisting of both side and approach lights. Surprisingly, novice pilots flew more stable approaches than did experienced pilots. Conclusions: Low, unsafe approaches occur frequently in conditions with limited global and local visual cues. Approach lights lateral of the runway may counter the bias of the BHI. The variability suggested a proactive, cue-seeking behavior among experienced pilots as compared with novice pilots. Application: Visual spatial disorientation training in flight simulators should be used to demonstrate visual misperceptions in black hole environments and reduce pilots' confidence in their limited visual capabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)699-711
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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