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Provides a substitute for the earth's horizon. The attitude indicator displays scales that allow the pilot to set climb/dive angles and bank angle (VERY important aspects of instrument flying).
The attitude indicator plays a vital role in overcoming our sensory information that serves us well on the ground but provides incorrect and disorienting data at night or in the weather. The following list addresses some of the false sensations a pilot can experience from the inner ear (vestibular system):
ACTION: Prolonged constant turn
SENSATION: No sensation of turning
ACTION: Forward acceleration
SENSATION: Tilting backwards (sensation of climbing)
ACTION: Accelerating in a turn
SENSATION: Sensation of turning clockwise
Another sensory source that can provide incorrect data is the somatosensory system (commonly referred to as "seat of the pants"). On the ground, our numerous "sensors" of the somatosensory system feel the pull of gravity and tell us which way is down. However, in flight a pilot can pull "Gs" that are greater than the force of gravity (a 60 degree level turn produces 2 "Gs" or twice the force of gravity) and override this system making the pilot think that "down" is somewhere it isn't!
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Updated: March 12, 2004