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I recently completed a long XC and upon completion I suffered a bit from sea legs. The XC was for the 250nm requirement for my instrument rating and was performed in a C172. It took about 3.5hrs to complete and there was a short ~30min pit stop a little before hr 3 of the flight. I was under the hood the entire time except for takeoff and landing. The air wasn't particularly smooth as we were only @3-4k MSL and surface winds were in the teens. I completed the flight in the early evening (~8pm) and feel like I suffered from sea legs, a small wobbly sensation of constantly moving, until I went to sleep (~11pm). I'm guessing the sensation would have lasted longer had I not gone to sleep. The sensation only occurred once on the ground and after completion of the XC. I don't recall having the sensation during the pit stop.

I'm curious how or if I should be concerned about this. I do not suffer from in flight nausea, motion sickness or anything like that.

I have never had this happen on shorter, 1-2hr, training flights. I've never had this happen when flying on a commercial jetliner. I remember experiencing the same sea legs sensation on another long ~400+nm XC years ago. I flew a plane with an autopilot that rocked back and forth as it held the heading and I attributed the post flight sea legs to the oscillations of the autopilot.

Is this common for pilots to suffer from sea legs post flight? If it is common, how long does it last? Is this an indication of a pending medical issue or an issue that might be of concern? I'm curious if this is an indication of something of concern in my inner ear. Are there any concerns with bringing this up with my AME? I have to get my medical renewed this year.

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  • $\begingroup$ NEVER bring it up with an AME unless you feel that your condition could affect the safety of flight and that you should never fly again. $\endgroup$ – Phliar Phil May 24 '18 at 0:57
  • $\begingroup$ this is a medical condition called mal de debarquement syndrome or MdDS. Do a search on line, you will find literature on it. I developed a severe case after flying from Denmark to Los Angeles in a DC-7C in 1960 which would flare up anytime I was in an enclosed space, like a clothes closet or stairwell. it did not subside until 10 years after that flight. $\endgroup$ – niels nielsen Feb 28 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ This question is intrinsically somewhat a matter of opinion isn't it, as many medical issues are. Still it's too interesting to throw away. A more cut-and-dried question for Stack Exchange might be along the lines of "would an AME disqualify me if I shared the following observation with him"-- $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Jun 30 at 16:21
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Key point --

The sensation only occurred once on the ground and after completion of the XC.

until I went to sleep (~11pm)

If you have no further symptoms or at least no more severe symptoms, then I see no reason to be too concerned about this, and certainly no reason to bring it up with an AME. (But see added comment below re long-term career plans.) Interestingly, after hours spent feeling certain repetitive sensations, whether due to to thermalling flight in a hang glider or sailplane, or bobbing up in down in a kayak, I have sometimes noticed a sense of the motion continuing later, but ONLY while laying down prior to falling asleep in the evening. These sensations may have been more related to the repetitive forces felt by the skeletal-musculature system (increased G-load, rhythmic variation in G-load), than to the vestibular-occular system, so perhaps they were fundamentally different from what you are describing.

Comment incorporated into answer--

this is a medical condition called mal de debarquement syndrome or MdDS. Do a search on line, you will find literature on it. I developed a severe case after flying from Denmark to Los Angeles in a DC-7C in 1960 which would flare up anytime I was in an enclosed space, like a clothes closet or stairwell. it did not subside until 10 years after that flight. – niels nielsen

A google search on that term produced other similar results of symptoms lasting many years-- remarkable. Some rather interesting ideas may be found about just what is going on here, and how to treat it. See for example https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5418223/

We reasoned that if the notion of MdDS caused by maladaptation of the VOR holds true, a reversed VOR stimulus should mitigate or even cure the MdDS symptoms. Based on these findings, a treatment for MdDS was devised that consisted of rolling the head at the frequency of body rocking, while the subjects viewed a slowly moving visual surround. This postulate was tested in 24 MdDS patients employing cross-axis visual coupling (1). The results were promising: 75% of the MdDS patients had significant improvement in a 12-month observation, which was the first successful treatment of this debilitating illness.

(Front Neurol. 2017; 8: 175. Published online 2017 May 5. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2017.00175 PMCID: PMC5418223 PMID: 28529496 Treatment of the Mal de Debarquement Syndrome: A 1-Year Follow-up Mingjia Dai,1 Bernard Cohen,1 Catherine Cho,2,3 Susan Shin,1 and Sergei B. Yakushin1,*)

It would appear that there are enormous gradations in how severe this sort of thing can be. If you are simply feeling some sensations on the ground, after a flight, and they are gone the next morning, it would seem both un-necessary and unwise to mention them to an AME.

I would say that occasionally-recurring symptoms at the level you've reported might be reason to think twice about a career as a professional pilot-- lest the symptoms get worse-- but still not something that would suddenly and significantly compromise your ability to fly safely on any given instance, and therefore not something that you should feel compelled to report to an AME.

Obviously I am speaking from the viewpoint of what is in your best interest as long as it does not significantly conflict with safety. An AME might well give a different opinion.

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