I recently started learning to fly sailplanes. I am usually quite resistant against airsickness, both when flying commercially as well as flying in the front seat of a sailplane (either when the instructor is thermalling or when I do it myself). However, I recently took a longer flight as a passenger in the back of an ASK-21, and found that I got quite dizzy as the flight progressed. The thermals were not great so we were circling quite tightly to climb at all. It was only when I was offered the controls that the feeling of airsickness disappeared (surprisingly rapidly, too, even though we were still circling, porpoising, etc.)

What are some techniques to mitigate airsickness, specifically in the back seat of a sailplane, other than simply taking the controls?

Things I tried:

  • Looking forward: more difficult due to limited visibility, especially straight ahead. What would be a good point to focus on?
  • Take deep breaths: resulted in hyperventilation symptoms (tingling of hands and face).
  • Stick in hand: helps a little, but I don't want to disturb the pilot flying.
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    $\begingroup$ Minor point, but is "dizzy"/ "dizziness" really the right word? Such as a sense that the world is spinning even when you are flying straight? Or do you really mean "queasy", i.e. a sense of nausea? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ @quietflyer A bit of both I think. $\endgroup$
    – Sanchises
    Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 3:49

4 Answers 4


Motion sickness is a somewhat complicated mechanism with a lot of variables, and ones propensity to get motion sickness may vary substantially even within the same day.

Over time most people will get accustomed to circumstances that trigger motion sickness, most common ways to prevent/manage/treat motion sickness are:

  • Focus your view at distant objects, do not look close (gauges) for long periods of time
  • Antihistamines, unfortunately only ones that cause drowsiness help, so they are ruled out in aviation
  • Scopolamine patches
  • Acupuncture wristbands
  • Diet: somewhat counterintuitively an empty stomach is very bad when it comes to motion sickness
  • diet subcategory: eat/drink ginger (moderately) pre-flight (thanks to Ralph J for a reminder)

For me personally I've found that the "distant gaze" and diet methods work very well. I easily get motion sickness unless I'm at controls, be it a plane or a boat. Focussing on surroundings as much as possible, and eating moderately before entering a situation that might agitate motion sickness will prevent any symptoms with almost hundred percent effectiveness. Of course, your reactions might vary.

Quick googling gave this site with pretty correct, complete and concise wrap on the subject: Cleveland Clinic - Motion Sickness

P.S. fun fact: some pilots get motion(less) sickness if the fly in a stationary simulator. They are so accustomed to how real flying feels, that they are thrown off the other way around.

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    $\begingroup$ Diet is indeed important. The only time I got sick in the backseat of a two-seater glider was after having had three steaks for breakfast. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ Might consider expanding content on antihistamines-- might be a viable option in this case as the person is not the PIC and will not be the primary operator of the controls-- $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @quietflyer I wonder if that would put PIC in a predicament, as he/she should not give control of the aircraft to a person who is under the influence of a drug that may affect performance in an adverse way? $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ Many sources add ginger as helpful, either ginger snaps or ginger ale, or however else you like it. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ When sailing a small boat in heavy chop, if someone starts getting quiet and green-faced, we put them on the tiller (if capable) and definitely make them look at the horizon. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 22:04

As @Jpe61 says there's a lot of variables and variability with motion sickness and what works for one person may not work for another. That being said from my own experience and speaking to others who do aerobatics there's a few things that seem be consistent:

  • Exposure: as you fly you will get used to the motion, up to a point
  • Diet the night before matters quite a bit: gut-bombs the night before can make your stomach more sensitive the next day. Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption the night before is good too. Massive beer and curry bashes aren't conducive to happy flying
  • Carbonated drinks: some people say they help settle the stomach, others just the opposite, I'm one of the latter
  • Keep cool: getting too warm causes queasiness, fresh air is good too
  • $\begingroup$ good points on the carbonated drinks and fresh air! $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ Not enough to warrant a full answer: stay hydrated! I drink cool, flat table / tap / bottled (doesn't really matter) water continuously, but not so much it starts sloshing around in my stomach. Some of my favorite airports have water fountains at every gate where you can fill up your water bottle. I also want to second (third?) the advice on fresh air. In airliners, the first thing I do even before sitting down is open the vent all the way and turn it such that it blows directly in my face with the seat upright and directly past my face with the seat reclined. Obviously, a glider doesn't have $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ … AC, but maybe you can find something to accommodate you nonetheless. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 17:48

I would say it mostly requires desensitization from exposure. In other words, stick it out until you get used to it, and find ways to get similar exposure on the ground to speed up the process.

The problem is mostly conflicts between G load sensations and sight picture, and inner ear cochlea fluid reactions to sustained rotations in space, such in a sustained turn where the fluid catches up to your rotating head, then when you stop turning the fluid continues moving, giving you a sense of turning the opposite way.

It's mostly the conflict between your inner senses and the sight picture that makes you dizzy. You can get the same (somewhat milder) effect with precisely the opposite stimuli in an IMAX movie, where the sight picture that dominates your vision field, the screen being so big, shows you turning in flight, but your inner ear is telling you you're stationary.

Some people get better by removing the visual stimulus, by closing their eyes, or by changing their visual focus. In your case all it takes is to distract your brain with a task like flying the glider.

Two possible desensitization techniques you can do on the ground is spend time on a park swing to desensitize yourself to G load variations (helps with seasickness), and spend time on a something that can be made to rotate with little effort, like an office chair or barstool with a really good low friction pivot, where you can sustain a rotation for extended periods and stop them at will. Just keep doing it and you'll find you can tolerate the movements more and more over time (for extra fun and entertainment, set up a continuous rotation for a minute or two, then stop it and stand up - make sure there is something soft on the floor to land on as you leap sideways).

  • $\begingroup$ Well worth +1, but it is really hard to mimick the sensory environment of flying. The swing method might really work though! $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ The spinny chair thing is a common ground school demonstration of vertigo from instrument flying. You close your eyes and put your head up and down as the chair is gently rotated, then told to open your eyes and stand up right away. Everybody will generally stand at about a 45 deg angle and fall over. It's the sustained turn, then stopping the turn, that gets you into trouble, and you can replicate that in a chair. The swing is to desensitize to 0 G. I'm fine in planes, but more than 15 min on a park swing gets me queezy. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 19:53

In my limited experience, always look the way you’re turning, lean into the turn to the extent that you can.


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