Trivia Teaser – Unseating Misconceptions

Question: True or False: There has actually been a scientific study done to disprove the theory that a pilot flies by the seat of his (or her) pants.

: True. Hubertus Strughold, M.D., PhD was the first professor of space medicine for the USAF School of Aviation Medicine. He was formerly director of the Aeromedical Research Institute in Berlin. Although some of the earlier work of Herr Strughold may have had associations with human experiments under the aegis of the Third Reich (and a few others of the more illustrious of our early entrants into the American space program under Project Paperclip had a checkered past, such as Wernher von Braun of the V-2 program at Peenemunde), Dr. Strughold had long theorized on the medical implications of space flight and has been credited with initial research in several areas. One of them was, well, this idea about seat-of-the-pants flying. This is from NASA’s own documents on the history of research in space biology and biodynamics, part three (HISTORY OF RESEARCH IN SUBGRAVITY AND ZERO-G AT THE AIR FORCE MISSILE DEVELOPMENT CENTER 1948-1958):

‘A German aeromedical scientist, Doctor Hubertus Strughold.staged a particularly memorable experiment to study human orientation when deprived of gravitational cues from the external pressure sense. This is only one of the sense mechanisms that supply information on bodily weight and direction, but it is important in flying, where it is activated by the pressure of the aircraft seat on a flier’s skin and thus provides the familiar ‘seat-of-the-pants sensation.’ In order to simulate a weightless condition as far as this one sense is concerned, Strughold anesthetized his buttocks with novocaine. He then flew a series of acrobatic maneuvers, and in his peculiar condition he found the experience very disagreeable.’