I just started to receive instructions to become a glider pilot, yay me! :) I (and my instructor) have noticed that I have the tendency to keep the head level (eye-line parallel to horizon) in turns and my instructor says that wouldn't be a good idea, because at some point I won't be able to keep the head level anymore, so I should practice with keeping my head level to the lateral axis of the plane, i.e. inclined together with the bank and eye-line parallel with the wings.

What do professional or experienced glider pilots do? Is it maybe a matter of taste? Or should I let go of this tendency because at some point I just can't use horizon and gravity-sensation to orient myself (due to g-forces, spinning, etc.)?

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Are you asking what professional glider pilots do? At least from a GA standpoint, when flying I don't tilt my head to match the horizon as I make turns. I need to be head outside to watch attitude and head inside to watch instruments, and that would make for a very sore neck and spatial disorientation very quickly. Have you ever seen what a Barany chair does? Seems like you would get the same effect... $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 21 '16 at 20:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ GA means general aviation, typically propeller driven private airplanes. Keeping my head straight also helps correlate the artificial horizon with the actual horizon but I understand that many gliders don't have that instrument. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 21 '16 at 21:04
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'd venture to guess that it's something that will go away naturally. You're probably just not used to being at an angle while seated. Once you get accustomed to looking from instruments to window like Ron said you'll probably stop doing it $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 21 '16 at 23:10
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ FWIW, I wasn't taught to keep my neck straight, and initially I did what you do. I don't know when it disappeared, but as @TomMcW says, it kind of just came naturally after a while. $\endgroup$ – falstro Apr 22 '16 at 5:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Very high bank angles aren't very rare in my gliding experience, you don't want to be turning your head 75 degrees from your body, also you need to be able to look into the turn for lookout. $\endgroup$ – D. Clayton Apr 22 '16 at 15:50

I am not a glider pilot, but the principle holds for flying any fixed wing aircraft1: you should keep your head level with the aircraft, as you described, not the horizon.

As your instructor explained, there may come—or will come—a time when you are not able to keep your head level with the horizon due to the nature of a particular maneuver or orientation, and that is a practical matter to consider. It is certainly difficult to incline one's head 60° to the side in a steep turn.

From my perspective, however, the more important reason is that your frame of reference needs to be the aircraft. You are used to viewing the world with the ground as your frame of reference; down is down, up is up. As you learn to fly, however, you need to learn a new way to view three dimensional space, or—more specifically—the way you move through that space in the aircraft. It might sound cheesy, but you really need to learn to become one with the aircraft and hold the same perspective regardless of the aircraft's orientation.

Now, that being said, as you gain experience and develop your skills, you may come to realize that this perspective shift does not always require that your head remain rigidly perpendicular to your shoulders. Rather, it is a matter of perception which will eventually be independent of how your head is oriented relative to the aircraft. At my first flying job I spent much of my time in maneuvering flight and my head was rarely still—much less level with the aircraft. I spent a great deal of time with my head on a swivel, looking up and down, side to side, craning forward to clear into a turn, looking back into the cockpit, etc.

At this stage in your training, however, it is probably important to train to keep your head straight within the aircraft; certainly follow your instructor's instructions, and you should do well.

1This probably holds true for rotorcraft as well, or any aircraft for that matter. I am only sharing what I am familiar with.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised to see that no one mentioned that waggling your head around in a moving aircraft will make you barf. $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Apr 22 '16 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @HowardMiller I mention it in the very first comment to the OP's post above... That's what a Barany chair does... $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 22 '16 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Sorry, I missed it. Sometime MEGO. $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Apr 22 '16 at 23:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @HowardMiller Certain movements will tend towards motion sickness, but having one's head on a swivel, properly done need not induce nausea. For that matter, having your head "waggling" around by induced motion is common and—at least with experience—need not result in discomfort. I fly extensively in moderate turbulence and low level wind shear and only very rarely experience motion induced nausea. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Apr 23 '16 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters When I fly commercial, I always ask for a seat over the wing root to minimize the effect of aircraft motion, and an aisle seat so I can get to the bathroom without climbing over people. In a small plane, though, I carry bonine. Once, I went sailing on a 32 foot sloop with several other people. I was fairly familiar with sailing because I had my own boat, but found that I was seasick for most of the sail, except when I was at the helm. Then I felt perfectly fine. I think when you have the controls, you can anticipate the motion better. $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Apr 23 '16 at 15:20

I was taught (by multiple instructors) to keep head straight. During my instrument training, I was told it helped w/spatial disorientation. During my aerobatic training, my instructor sat behind me and would slap the back of my head if I did not keep it straight during maneuvers.

straight == not tilted, lean back and keep head firmly planted on headrest, do not compensate bank, etc.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ could you precise what you mean by 'straight' please? $\endgroup$ – K.-Michael Aye Apr 21 '16 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ Straight relative to body and plane, gotcha. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – K.-Michael Aye Apr 21 '16 at 22:53

Level with the wings.

If you keep level with the horizon then you are not maintaining an even lookout all round for a start and when you find yourself in a stack of other gliders in a thermal you need to keep a good lookout even with FLARM. In addition what the head does the body tends to follow and so you may find yourself unintentionally decreasing the bank angle to match your head and then slipping out of the turn.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ what's "FLARM"? $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 22 '16 at 10:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Federico: A collision avoidance system for GA aircraft. See https://flarm.com for more. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Apr 22 '16 at 12:45

You need to keep your head level with reference to the airplane and not the horizon. Until you learn this basic building block, other more advanced things will be difficult to grasp.

Airplane Flying Handbook, pg. 3-11

The pilot’s posture while seated in the airplane is very important, particularly during turns. It will affect the interpretation of outside visual references. At the beginning, the student may lean away from the turn in an attempt to remain upright in relation to the ground rather than ride with the airplane. This should be corrected immediately if the student is to properly learn to use visual references. [Figure 3-12]

Figure 3-12


As others have said, keep your head straight in reference to the aircraft. To add to Ron's comment, head leaning can lead to coriolis illusion.


I find this an odd question.

When I am looking over the nose, my head is wings level.

But most of the time my head is moving around anyway, scanning for traffic and scanning instruments.

And especially when turning, I am looking through the turn which means say 30 degrees to the side of the nose, and up and down over the horizon.

So I can't say how my head is oriented, except to say it's pointed at where I want to look.

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly because of your pointing statement in the last sentence, it's perfectly possible to look over the nose with a head angle that is inclined with reference to the wings. So I don't see the oddity, and at least 14 others seem to find it an okay question, too. ;) $\endgroup$ – K.-Michael Aye Apr 25 '16 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ Who looks over the nose in a turn? $\endgroup$ – rbp Apr 25 '16 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ I misunderstood that you tried to use the nose example as the exception when you would be level with the wings. But because of the importance of pointing not of head position, one has the choice to look into the turn with the head level with the wings or otherwise. Because the looking of 30 degrees into the turn can be done with head yaw alone, without any head roll, and that seems what the FAA prefers as well. $\endgroup$ – K.-Michael Aye Apr 25 '16 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ @K.-MichaelAye Except in some (high wing) aircraft you may need to "roll" your head to look into a turn adequately, which is my case. But that is not necessarily normative, and certainly not for gliders. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Apr 27 '16 at 2:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.