Mental workload in basic civil aviation training

Abstract: Although the aviation industry has gone through great technological and commercial change in the last decades, basic civil aviation training has not changed accordingly. The consequences of the changes in civil aviation have rarely resulted in research programs in the field of basic civil aviation training and this phase, where future pilots gain their first sets of skills and knowledge, has long received only minimal attention from the aviation industry. Assessment of mental workload is a possible tool for investigating basic civil aviation training and it has been widely used for evaluation of aircraft design, mission analysis and assessment of pilot performance during flight operations. In the first study, in-flight recording of heart rate, the psychophysiological measure that has been most frequently used for assessment of mental workload, was investigated to see whether small, non-intrusive sports recorders can be used for in-flight data collection for research purposes. Data was collected from real and simulated flights with student pilots using the Polar Team System sports recorder and the Vitaport II, a clinical and research recording device. Comparison of the data shows that in-flight heart rate data from the smaller and less intrusive sports recorder had a correlation of .981 with that from the clinical recorder, indicating that the sports recorder is reliable and cost-effective for obtaining heart rate data. In the second study focus was on the transition from a traditional cockpit to a modern glass-cockpit, an issue within the aviation industry that has become as important for basic aviation training due to the arrival of small aircraft equipped with the modern technology of an airliner, so called Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA), during the last decade. Flight instructors involved in the introduction of TAAs in ab-initio training at a flight school were interviewed and questionnaires were collected from the familiarization training of instructors as well as from ab-initio students and instructors after three of the 18 flights leading up to the first solo. The results show that anticipated problems with use of displays, aircraft speed and use of side control proved to have limited impact on the training. The conclusion is that with extensive preparation, introduction of TAA in ab-initio training can be accomplished successfully. However, the expected benefits of this on training and questions on what might be lost in the process need to be addressed by further research.

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