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Development of a Field-Deployable Psychomotor Vigilance Test to Monitor Helicopter Pilot Performance

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INTRODUCTION: Flying a helicopter is a complex psychomotor skill. Fatigue is a serious threat to operational safety, particularly for sustained helicopter operations involving high levels of cognitive information processing and sustained time on task. As part of ongoing research into this issue, the object of this study was to develop a field-deployable helicopter-specific psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) for the purpose of daily performance monitoring of pilots.

METHODS: The PVT consists of a laptop computer, a hand-operated joystick, and a set of rudder pedals. Screen-based compensatory tracking task software includes a tracking ball (operated by the joystick) which moves randomly in all directions, and a second tracking ball which moves horizontally (operated by the rudder pedals). The 5-min test requires the pilot to keep both tracking balls centered.

RESULTS: This helicopter-specific PVT’s portability and integrated data acquisition and storage system enables daily field monitoring of the performance of individual helicopter pilots. The inclusion of a simultaneous foot-operated tracking task ensures divided attention for helicopter pilots as the movement of both tracking balls requires simultaneous inputs.

DISCUSSION: This PVT is quick, economical, easy to use, and specific to the operational flying task. It can be used for performance monitoring purposes, and as a general research tool for investigating the psychomotor demands of helicopter operations. While reliability and validity testing is warranted, data acquired from this test could help further our understanding of the effect of various factors (such as fatigue) on helicopter pilot performance, with the potential of contributing to helicopter operational safety.

McMahon TW, Newman DG. Development of a field-deployable psychomotor vigilance test to monitor helicopter pilot performance. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(4):417–422.
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Keywords: PVT; fatigue; flight safety; human factors; rotary

Document Type: Technical Note

Affiliations: Department of Aviation, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: 01 April 2016

More about this publication?
  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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