Have you ever gotten motion sickness?
Is it annoying?
For the last couple years I have worked to learn about and master a method used to train astronauts and fighter pilots to manage and mitigate motion sickness.
Its important to understand the progression of symptoms so that you can stay on top of it and manage it.
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Step 1: Symptoms of Motion Sickness
Most of the time you notice Motion sickness late in the Game making it really hard to manage.
The goal of this training is to notice it early and get on top of it.
Symptoms of Motion Sickness are:
• Increased Warmth
• Stomach Sensations
•• Epigastric Awareness (not nausea or uncomfortable, but aware of stomach ie. hunger)
•• Epigastric Discomfort (not nausea, but increasingly uncomfortable, knot in the stomach or throat)
•• Nausea (definitely not aware or discomfort, the next level)
•• Frank Vomiting (present or not)
Step 2: My Story: Part 1 - Background
My first experiences with motion sickness all occurred in cars, earliest being riding backwards in a station wagon over the smoky mountains during a family trip probably less than 5 years old. Pacific Highway 1 was also memorable (age 11). My interest in aviation and space exploration overlooked early sensitivities, a couple times during flight training (Piper Cherokee) when I was a teenager I felt flushed with the onset of motion sickness, and I heard that astronauts would get sick for days so I wasn’t worried about crushing my dreams. Once during an aerobatic flight I almost got sick, but was given the controls and was able to regain composure based on a new focus (this tends to work really well).
Step 3: My Story: Part 2 - the Wrong Way
In college in Florida I learned to sail after fixing the hurricane-damaged boats (2004) at the school with some friends, I also started hanging out with some retired guys who invited me to race sailboats offshore.
My first race was after a strong north storm, it was 408nm and up the gulfstream. As we headed out to the start line the skyscraper looking waves offshore fondly called the marching elephants, brought 42 hours of big wind and big waves and did not give me an option to go back to the port, just had to deal with what I got myself into. In sailing, I trained myself to throw up and get it over with, get on with the job at hand. It felt so much better, and I could return to packing a spinnaker, or setting/dousing a new sail set.
My academic research allowed me to fly on the ZEROG plane (2008). They tell you not to flip around a lot in the beginning, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance to do it again… I flipped like crazy and had to run a couple experiments at the same time. I ended up getting sick three times my first flight (50 parabolas), but the sailing training worked and I could go back to work. The parabolas are hard because it is a constant transition from 2G’s to microgravity back to 2G’s. It’s really the transitions that got me, and not until after 30. I did it all with a smile, it was a blast. I thought I had solved it. I felt good about myself. (always the time when things slap you in the face.)
Step 4: My Story: Part 3 - Pilot in Command
On my first paragliding trip away from the training hill and to the mountains (2012), I got sick 4 out of my 6 flights. Full on throwing up in the sky. There is a youtube video. My sailing training made me feel great afterwards and I went on to have great flights, but I didn’t really feel great, I wanted to completely enjoy flying like I had dreamt of my whole life. I felt trapped and frustrated; finally, I had found the thing I was looking for (flying) only to be limited by a funny thing that just seems to happen.
I noticed its connection with stress as well as the dynamic movement through the sky. It is also is sensitive to how much is going on in terms of brain cycles, If I felt over loaded it was more likely to start roaring its ugly head. The self-training from my experiences suggested I accelerate the sickness and get it over with so I could go back to flying. This approach ended up being wrong.Many times, annoyingly, I ended up leaving lift to go find a spot to throw up and crawling my way back to the group… I got good at it and thought it was kinda funny at the time. I would go into a nice turn and lean over one shoulder never getting a drop on my jacket. I felt I could handle it and it was just like the boat. A little bit of water and a snack and I was on my way. It didn’t take long to dawn on me that this was no good for flying. I had trained myself in a way that was not compatible with being a pilot in command. A lot of energy gets used flying and throwing up uses too much. I looked at my options, at this point I was familiar with all the solutions.. well I don’t want to take Dramamine flying. Ginger and the pressure points don’t work for me, they help, but aren’t the answer.
Step 5: My Story: Part 4 - There Is a Way
After a little research, I found the answer. It is research conducted at Ames Research Center, by Patricia S Cowings et al. The first article I found was awesome, “Autogenic Feedback Training as a Treatment for Airsickness in High-Performance Military Aircraft: Two Case Studies.”
They Measure:• Finger Pulse Volume• Respiration Rate• Heart Rate• Skin Conductance Level
“The primary criterion for evaluating success was increased motion sickness tolerance. (ie. Subjects could undergo tests in the spinning chair for much longer and at higher speeds than before.)”
Lab based training requires the subjects to place sensors on their body and uses an onboard display, allowing them to monitor their own body’s measurements while they spin in the chair. The goal is to focus on the measurements and bring them back to a good level.. a happy place! During this process, they purposely make the subjects sick. Spinning subjects for upwards of 41 minutes. After repeating these tests in many sessions they are able to overcome their sickness, control their body and repass exams needed to fly high performance aircraft. So… Solved… sorta. Just need a laboratory!
Step 6: Self Managment
After reading the article the main point is that through an almost meditation like process you can focus and control your own bodies reactions. The more it works and you realize it, then the more it works. It’s a bit mind over matter. I played with the idea of making all sorts of sensors for myself, but… I figured why not try to control the things they say are controllable. It takes practice.
You focus on reducing heart rate
You focus on calming your breath
You focus on less perspiration
Manage the progression of symptoms, the earlier you can catch it the easier it is
One flight I reset myself 5 times and lost it on the last time right as I came in to land. I was really happy about the flight, and that I had reset 4/5 times and the last one.. oh well.. I have taken three SIV courses with Brad Gunnuscio and I never once felt sick. I think it’s all the vitamin G! It takes a positive attitude I am still working on this training and I am mostly successful.
Every time I fly I practice the method above to stay calm and manage motion sickness. In October 2014 I changed to a Skywalk Arriba 3 and I couldn’t be happier. I have not gotten sick since changing wings all the way up until January this year. I was flying in Colombia and on my third flight I misjudged a cloud and spent a couple minutes in the white room. After exiting the cloud by picking my heading and going full bar I had a lot of adrenaline pumping through my blood. When it flushed I missed the opportunity to stay on top of my physiological state and I ended up getting sick. The next day I had the best flight of my life and was able to manage motion sickness. This method works!
Step 7: FFRL - Biometric Instrumentation
As part of the Free Flight Research Lab experiments I am conducting at Pier 9. I instrumented myself with heart rate and gForce sensors during my SIV course in mid April.
The goal is to build a feedback system with display that monitors the pilot, the wing, and the environment.
The future of free flight will progressively get safer as sensor networks are added to the technology.
The flight platform will be able to be used for valuable conservation, science and research.
I have 2 systems I am using now, the Flymaster HeartG and a biomedical instrumentation suite with 10 sensors that is arduino based.
The Journey continues.