Why are the colors of the MiG-15's attitude indicator inverted (blue on the ground side, brown on the sky side)?

enter image description here
Source: http://www.warbirdalley.com/mig17.htm

  • $\begingroup$ youtu.be/XZ_Ju1By7_U $\endgroup$
    – George Geo
    Jan 25, 2020 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ There are many photos of the negative tilted Attitude indicator $\endgroup$
    – George Geo
    Jan 25, 2020 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ In Soviet Russia, Attitude Indicator inverts YOU! $\endgroup$
    – Davidw
    Jan 26, 2020 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ Apparently not related: How is a confusion possible between Western and Russian Attitude Indicators? $\endgroup$
    – Bergi
    Jan 26, 2020 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ Wait a minute, I understand perfectly. In America, you pull up the plane to point it at the sky. In Soviet Russia, sky pulls up onto plane! $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2020 at 14:59

2 Answers 2


That attitude gyro reacts in the opposite manner to pitch movement (pitch down = horizon line rolls DOWN) compared to the "conventional" manner (pitch down, horizon line rolls UP). This is sufficiently confusing that on similar gyros of American manufacture, the words CLIMB and DIVE are printed on the "ball" inside the gyro case to remind the pilot what the instrument is telling him or her.

The "opposite" reading gyro horizons were commonly used in American fighter aircraft because their construction made them more resistant to tumbling than were the "conventional" reading instruments, which were used in civilian aircraft.

After WWII, those opposite-reading gyros wound up on the surplus market and a number of them were installed in civilian aircraft, including the Beech Bonanza that was carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper on the night of their crash. The pilot had trained in a plane with a conventionally-reading instrument in its panel and the accident report claimed that he was confused by that opposite-reading gyro in the dark, thinking he was trimming for an 800FPM climb when what he was really doing was trimming for a descent- and minutes after takeoff, the plane flew smoothly into the ground and everyone aboard was killed.

I have an example of both types of gyro horizon in my collection, and even when they are not spinning, simply tilting their cases in unison demonstrates the difference: one rolls up, the other rolls down when you pitch them both down.

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    $\begingroup$ My God, that is confusing / amazing. That's like Nintendo famously have the Y axis the wrong way; so anyone who's a pilot or has even just played any plane game gets stunningly confused - you push the stick forwards in Splatoon and you .. point upwards. (Fortunately you can change it in the settings.) Conversely kids who got a Switch and have never, you know, flown a plane have their minds wired the wrong way now - and hopefully they will never become pilots :O $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Jan 27, 2020 at 11:34
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  • $\begingroup$ fascinating @MasonWheeler , thanks for that ! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Jan 27, 2020 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Fattie I'll note that for an FPS, up=up, down=down makes sense. As soon as you're in a vehicle though, that had better switch so that up=push nose and down=pull nose $\endgroup$
    – Baldrickk
    Jan 28, 2020 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ it's definitely an issue, @Baldrickk ! Example my kids use "Nintendo style" when blasting around in Splatoon and it gives me a migraine to even watch their fingers while! :) Humorously, from time to time I'll forget to swap it to what I consider "normal", if they've been using their machine, when I play :) $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Jan 28, 2020 at 13:23

This is interesting! The only lead I was able to find (so far) is this discussion thread, with a comment:

The colour becomes logical, if you see it moving. Climbing the plane which shows the sky in blue on the artificial horizon. Ground being brown/earth, if you see this, the nose of the plane is pointing downwards

And the explanation for arranging the colours in this way is, plausibly (same discussion):

It makes the instrument less complex. The way it is built means you do not have to invert the pitch axis movement of the gyro, which is the case for "conventional" artificial horizons.

If you want to build the simpliest possible attitude indicator, you take a gimballed gyro and attach a sphere with horizon line and some kind of metering lineage on it. This sphere will maintain its position in relation to earths surface. With roll it is self explanatory, it will indicate the tilt of the horizon as it will appear if you look outside. Indicating pitch is not as simple. As you pitch up, the horizon line will move up on this simple AI. Now that's not very intuitive. Pitching down, the line goes down. Again, not that intuitive!

enter image description here
Note how the pilot would see the bottom of the sphere: more blue (source; edited)

So, to keep the mechanism simple, they fixed this with colours: bottom part is blue, because when you pitch up, the bottom part will become more visible, thus indicating you are heading towards the blue sky. Pitch down, and the indicator will show more of its top, which is painted brown, indicating you are headed towards dirt.

You can see the "reversed" AI rolling as described above in the youtube video embedded in the question, approximately 19:10 onwards, as the pilot is doing some maneuvering.

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    $\begingroup$ It is like an glass of red wine half empty. $\endgroup$
    – George Geo
    Jan 25, 2020 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, I see what I missed before. The Russian attitude display works opposite to what the west is used to, so they inverted the colors to compensate. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2020 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall It's not necessarily opposite to western display but opposite to civilian display considering western fighter planes also sometimes use this opposite type of indicator simply due to their robustness $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Jan 26, 2020 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @ymb1 for the picture, as always, worth a thousand words. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Jan 26, 2020 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall Why would it have to be recent for the assertion to be true? Mig-15 is old as well. Very old in fact. More recent Russian attitude indicators were also different from it, with a small symbol of a plane moving on a fixed background i.sstatic.net/BoTMI.jpg The design discussed here is old both for the West and for the East. A Sabre is the same age as Mig-15 books.google.cz/… $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2020 at 9:25

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