If you’ve ever been one to wonder whether or not pilots get motion sickness, the short answer to the question is yes.
Motion sickness is a completely normal response to an abnormal stimulus. Whether it be on land, on sea, or in the air, all types of motion sickness are caused by a disagreement between the information your eyes receive and the information from organs in your inner ear. Essentially this means a clash between what you see and what you feel which confuses the brain’s normal sensory awareness processing.
Motion sickness is much less common among highly experienced pilots and more common to students and passengers. This is due to a couple main reasons with the first being exposure. The more you fly, the more your body becomes accustomed to the “foreign” stimulus and the more natural it becomes causing less of a reaction. Secondly, you are likely to become sick when your focus is on the tasks of flying. When your mind is preoccupied, your brain is less likely to notice the disturbance in your senses. A good example of this is when the student pilot does not become sick when controlling the aircraft but the experienced instructor who is now sitting as passenger might. Similarly, you could compare this to when someone gets car sick as a passenger, but they are completely fine if they are the one driving the vehicle.
Still, even the most experienced pilots still get motion sickness once in a while.
What happens if a pilot has to vomit?
‘We had officially graduated and had our graduation party — where we all drank too much. I was on the flight schedule for a last T-28 flight, to complete my flying time.
‘Definitely not wise to go flying the morning after drinking heavily, but I thought I could just go up and bore holes in the sky and not get into trouble. I was young and foolish…
‘I was solo, so tried to fly as smoothly as I could — but I got sick.
‘I used the barf bag, but then I had a bag full of barf in the cockpit. I could open the canopy of the T-28 in flight (it slid back on rails. I was flying at about 90 knots. The wind was fierce!), so I opened the canopy enough to throw the bag overboard. However, the airstream was very strong and tore the bag apart, so I had barf along the side of the canopy (inside and out). When I landed, the ground crews DO NOT clean up barf. That’s the pilot’s job. I had to clean up the cockpit myself.
‘Never got sick in the air again!’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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