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Home > Becoming a Pilot > Would motion sickness affect my future aviation career?
Would motion sickness affect my future aviation career?
Pilot Career - Becoming a Pilot
Tuesday, 05 September 2006 11:19

Hi Capt Lim,

It has been a while since I*ve emailed you but now, I definitely could use your help with this!! Last weekend, I got to fly a Level D Boeing 737-500 simulator as part of a 2-day intro course for any pilot interested in learning about airline operations.

Anyway, after flying for about 15 minutes, I nearly threw up just after landing!! I felt just awful. This was my first time using a simulator like this and this was the last thing I imagined happening since I*ve done fine in Imax films and of course, several hours doing simulated and actual IFR flying in turbulence and unusual attitude recovery. Until this, I never got motion sickness to this extent. Looking only at the panel was the only way not to get sick! Looking out the front and side windscreen panel would made me feel very nauseous.

I am very discouraged by this experience and have no clue as to why, out of the 8 participants, I was the only one who was affected to such a great extent. I am very concerned that this will hold me back later in my aviation career since all my advanced training will be in these types of simulators.

Is this normal and is there any way besides drugs that will alleviate this? What is your take on this whole nightmare! Hopefully you*ll know how best to deal with it.

As always, thanks for the advice.

Andrew C

Hi Andrew,

Motion sickness is a well-known phenomenon in humans in unusual environment. It is a response to real or apparent motion to which a person is not adapted to. It is not a disorder and the symptoms are normal responses to an abnormal stimulus. Yes, only some, but not all pilots experience motion sickness during the flying training.

If it makes you feel any good, on my first few training flights in Britain many years ago, I was one of those who experienced motion sickness (have also mentioned this in previous FAQs). I have however overcome the problem and have gone on to fly more than 21000 hours without any recurring symptoms since then.

Was I given any treatment for this malady? No. I gradually got used to it. In fact, during my recent Airbus A320 training in the simulator, my co-pilot who partnered me, also had the problem, but not to the extent of vomiting. Instead, his symptoms were mainly dizziness and headaches. It affected his flying - mainly the landings, but have since got used to it.

Again, motion sickness affects an individual in different ways ? some briefly, others, longer. This problem is recognized in aviation, especially in military flying. For those who are more affected, drugs are available to treat it. However, medications do have some side effects and so psychological methods (include relaxation training, biofeedback) are often recommended. Success is likely to depend on your motivation and personality.

General treatment include simple classroom awareness training on the basics of motion sickness (identification of symptoms, basic vestibular physiology), and methods of prevention (foods, dietary schedule, stress management, etc.)

You mentioned that you were in the Boeing 737-500 simulator for only 15 minutes. The duration is too short for you to get used to it. Motion sickness can also be triggered by anxiety to flying something much bigger to what you are used to ? the Cessna 172. Relax ? it is fun to fly the big bird! You would get used to it after a while once you get to know more about the bigger plane!

From all your previous queries, I know you are highly motivated to become an airline pilot one day - so you would finally overcome it just like me!

Yes, for more serious cases, they may have to attend some form of *simulator therapy* sessions. The sessions would come with rotating disk, spinning chair and video-based exercises that create the illusion of movement. The treatment strengthens the visual input to the brain, improving balance, reducing dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

I don*t think you fall under the above category since you are already experienced on the Cessna 172 and have already flown under instruments on real planes. I am sure it would not hold you back in your future aviation career!:-)

Wish you all the best!

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