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Cognitive Function in Simulated Paragliding Flight

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INTRODUCTION: Paragliding is an emerging discipline of aviation, with recreational pilots flying distances over 100 km. It remains risky. Accidents typically relate to pilot error rather than equipment failure. We measured cognition and physiological responses during simulated flight, to investigate whether errors might be due to pilot impairment, rather than misjudgment.

METHODS: There were 10 male paraglider pilots (aged 19–58 yr) who undertook a simulated flight in an environmental chamber from sea level (0.209 FIo2) to 1524 m (0.174 FIo2), 2438 m (0.156 FIo2), and 3658 m (0.133 FIo2), over approximately 2 h. They experienced normobaric hypoxia, environmental cooling and headwind, completing logical reasoning, mannikin, mathematical processing, Stroop Color-Word and Tower Puzzle tasks; as well as measures of risk-taking (BART), mood (POMS), and subjective experience.

RESULTS: Results were compared to ten controls, matched by age, sex, and flying experience. Physiological measures were oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production, ventilation, heart rate, oxygen saturation, rectal and skin temperatures, blood glucose, blood lactate, and urine production. There were no significant differences between pilots and controls at any altitude. Results were heterogenous within and between individuals. As altitude increased, oxygen consumption and minute volume increased significantly, while oxygen saturations fell (98.3% [baseline] to 88.5% [peak]). Rectal temperatures fell by a statistically (but not clinically) significant amount (37.6°C to 37.3°C), while finger skin temperatures dropped steeply (32.2°C to 13.9°C).

DISCUSSION: Results suggest cognitive impairment is unlikely to be a primary cause of pilot error during paragliding flights (of less than 2 h, below 3658 m), though hand protection requires improvement.

Wilkes M, Long G, Massey H, Eglin C, Tipton MJ. Cognitive function in simulated paragliding flight. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2019; 90(10):851–859.
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Keywords: cold; hypoxia; low altitude; performance; temperature

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2019

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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