A346Dude
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Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 4:53 am

While I am not a licensed pilot, I (obviously) have an interest in aviation, and a few hours in light airplanes. Recently I have come to notice that I have a bit of a fear of heights. When in the front seat of a Cessna or the window seat of a jet, I don't have even the slighest anxiety of being that high above the ground. Looking down from the top of a tall building, however, kind of freaks me out!

I remember hearing something about pilots having an above average incidence of fear of heights, and I was wondering if this is indeed true. Are there any pilots here who are also afraid of heights? If so, it would be an interesting fact and I would be curious as to why those who are afraid of heights would tend to gravitate towards flying.

Any comments are appreciated.

A346Dude
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2H4
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:10 am



I don't think pilots are any more or less susceptable to fear of heights. I think it comes down to a general aversion to situations in which the failure of a single item (handrail, caribiner, safety rope, etc), or a one-time loss of balance could lead to one's demise.

For example, I'd be very nervous about crossing a 500 foot gorge on a tiny, weathered, 200-year-old rope bridge.

Reduce the height of that same bridge to 3 feet, and I wouldn't be nervous at all.

Keep the bridge at 3 feet, but place it over a pen containing thousands of black widow spiders and venomous snakes, and again...I'd be extremely hesitant to cross it. Large sums of money (or SlamClick's B-36 poster) would have to be involved.




2H4


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Rick767
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:14 am

I too heard that pilots have an above-average fear of heights (compared with the general population).

I for one am terrified of heights (tall buildings, exposed lift shafts, etc...). Flying a 737 at 37,000ft poses no problem at all however.

Strange huh?
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calpilot
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:52 am

I can't go on top of my one story house to hang Christmas lights. I send my 15 year old daughter to do it.

"Go figure!"
 
SATL382G
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 7:38 am

Quoting A346Dude (Thread starter):
Are there any pilots here who are also afraid of heights? If so, it would be an interesting fact and I would be curious as to why those who are afraid of heights would tend to gravitate towards flying.

I'm a PPL and I've never had a problem in a airplane either piloting or as a passenger. In a tall building however I will stay away from the windows and the observation deck will be a quick trip  Smile.

I've had the door on a 150 pop open on me while doing left hand steep turns, leaving me hanging by the seatbelt at 3000'AGL. No problem.... You will have to drag me on the roller coaster though, I won't go by myself.

I think it's a matter of education. I understand the basics of how the airplane works and what's required to break it. The same is not true with a high rise window or a roller coaster.

The last space shuttle commander said pretty much the same thing. She has no problem strapping on 7 millions pounds of fire and going mach 25, but she won't ride a roller coaster.

regards
"There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as being shot at and missed" --Winston Churchill
 
SlamClick
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 7:39 am

I believe that looking down the side of a building causes more fear of height than the simple elevation itself. 200 feet down a building is quite high, 200 feet above ground in an airplane is low-leveling. The US Army airborne school at Fort Benning used to teach that 34 feet was about the cutoff for fear of height and their practice tower was that tall. The point was making it higher would not have increased students fear factor.

I grew up on the edge of a 150 foot cliff, dropping in places, straight off to either ocean or beach. In places it was just steep and gravelly with a little grass and shrubs. Up to about that height I had no fear at all. Oddly, when I was a young man, put me on a 250 foot cliff and I was very uncomfortable. In my own element (150') I was fine. A friend and I even had footraces straight down some of the steep slopes.

At no time in my flying career did the height ever bother me except on one strange occasion. I was riding a United DC-8 eastbound over Colorado and walked up the aisle. Everyone had their window blinds up and I could see the ground kind of all around me. Suddenly I had the feeling of walking on a narrow catwalk miles above the ground. It lasted until I sat down again and could only see out my own window.

On one break between flying jobs I worked at a ski area and did the annual maintenance on the chairlifts. Some days the job involved riding a chairlift with a radio and having them stop it at a tower, then climbing up out of the chair onto the tower and having them run the lift while I trued-up the rubber cable sheaves. Other occasions we would use a work platform bolted into a chair, and stop it at a tower to replace sheaves etc. I did find some fear of heights at this time. You might say that it was justified; lifting heavy objects and swinging a hammer ninety feet above jagged rocks, but if you don't actually plan to fall, it should be controllable. I was glad when the next phone call came and I went back to a flying job!

Now fear of starving to death! There is a good one for pilots.

Edit: I now have a balance disorder, extremely mild but I'm left with a pathetic sense of balance. As a consequence I am much more careful of heighs now and generally don't go anywhere I am not willing to fall from. Four years ago I earnestly tried to walk across an abandoned railroad trestle which was over 400' long and about 100' high in the middle. All I had to walk on was a timber six inches wide. Should have been enough and when I was a kid I would have done it. Couldn't make myself walk out past about ten feet of height. Probably will never do anything like that again.

[Edited 2005-10-17 00:42:24]
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ShyFlyer
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 9:27 am

I have a somewhat odd variation on the fear of heights. I have no problem looking down from a high place, its looking up from that same high place that bothers me. It causes me tremendous grief when conducting power-on stalls.

When I when to the Grand Canyon a couple of years back, I had no trouble standing at the edge taking in the view, but had to back away before I'd dare look up at the tour helicopters/aircraft buzzing around overhead.
I lift things up and put them down.
 
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Jetlagged
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 9:28 am

If I stand on top of a tall building or cliff top I feel a ridiculous fear that I might suddenly get the urge to jump off. Looking down at the ground from such a height induces vertigo. Sitting in relative comfort in a closed fuselage I feel fine, because I'm only a few feet up (relative to the cabin floor that is  Smile ). I look out and revel in the view. I've never had the courage to take a hot air balloon ride because the open nature of the basket would have me frozen in fear. Similarly I'll probably give parachuting a miss.

Strangely I don't have a problem with roller coasters, especially those with padded shoulder harnesses, which hold you in tight. The open car ones are worse, but the thrill outweighs the fear, I find.

Slam, very sad to hear about your balance disorder. I had something like that which came on suddenly last year. If I tilted my head, sat back, or sat up suddenly I would get very dizzy and lose balance. Sat in a flight simulator I couldn't look at the overhead panel without getting dizzy. To my great relief, the problem cleared up spontaneously a few months later. One can only hope.
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jetmatt777
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 12:33 pm

Quoting A346Dude (Thread starter):
When in the front seat of a Cessna or the window seat of a jet, I don't have even the slighest anxiety of being that high above the ground. Looking down from the top of a tall building, however, kind of freaks me out!

Same problem I have.
Lighten up while you still can, don't even try to understand, just find a place to make your stand and take it easy
 
AAR90
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 3:52 pm

Quoting A346Dude (Thread starter):
I remember hearing something about pilots having an above average incidence of fear of heights, and I was wondering if this is indeed true.

In college I participated in a Sociology study on this very subject. Our findings were that the phobia (I do not recall the name from ~30 years ago) pilots experience is not of "heights" itself but rather a "lack-of-control." That lack-of-control manifests itself most often when standing near the edge of a tall structure when one could possibly fall --hence the common perception it is a fear of heights. If you fall, you will have total lack-of-control and you know it! A pilot in a "falling" airplane will be using all of his training, knowledge & experience to regain control. Hence the "calmness" observed in pilots of planes in extremis... they're still "in-control" doing what they've been trained to do.
As a 20-something prospective pilot, that study did wonders to reduce my own concerns that I too had a fear of heights.... nope, just lack of control. Got an A+ in that class too... not bad since most of the students were Sociology graduate students who received B's & C's.  Big grin
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kbfispotter
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:08 pm

I am in the same boat... I can fly an aircraft at over ten thousand feet, but get me on top of a building, even one that is only fifteen feet high, I start to freak out. I have no problem with roller coasters, though, I cannot get enough of those things. I have always found that wierd.


Kris
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SuperD
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Tue Oct 18, 2005 4:32 am

Quoting Jetlagged (Reply 7):
If I stand on top of a tall building or cliff top I feel a ridiculous fear that I might suddenly get the urge to jump off.

I'm really glad I'm not alone on this. The way that I get myself to do things that would make me initially nervous (sky-diving, skiing down a steep slope, jumping off the high board, etc.) is to tell myself not to think about what I'm doing and just do it. When I'm standing near a tall cliff I have this irrational fear that I'm going to do that: not think about it and just jump.

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 5):
I believe that looking down the side of a building causes more fear of height than the simple elevation itself.

It does for me. The observation deck in the CN tower in Toronto is at 1,100'. No matter how hard I tried when I was standing there, I could not really picture it as pattern altitude. It felt like I was at 5,000'.

Quoting AAR90 (Reply 9):
the phobia (I do not recall the name from ~30 years ago) pilots experience is not of "heights" itself but rather a "lack-of-control."

I agree. I wouldn't say that my fear of heights is any more than the average person, but I do get nervous close to the edge of tall buildings and cliffs. I also love rollercoasters but hate going up the tall first hill. On the other hand, I love rolling aerobatic aircraft upside down, hanging on the straps, and looking up at the ground from 6,000'. If I picture myself falling off a tall cliff, there's nothing I can do but fall into nothingness. I hate that idea. When I'm in an airplane, it's completely different. The air doesn't seem like nothingness. When I'm flying, thermals, turbulence, clouds, and wind give the air substance. Landing feels more like sliding down a hill than falling out of the sky. Being afraid of heights when flying for me would be like being afraid of heights in a boat just because the ocean floor is a few hundred feet down. I cannot picture myself simply tumbling straight down out of the sky when I'm in an aircraft, so heights become irrelevant.
 
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RE: Pilots And Fear Of Heights

Tue Oct 18, 2005 6:39 am

I am pretty scared of heights (as in tall buildings and cliffs). But I had no problem dangling my leg out of the open hatch of an Islander while ascending to skydiving altitude. It's all about "connection" to the ground. If you're more than 100 ft up in an airplane (or chute), the hindbrain doesn't make the "connection" and it all looks like a map.

[Edited 2005-10-17 23:39:22]
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