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Visual Scanning Techniques and Mental Workload of Helicopter Pilots During Simulated Flight

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INTRODUCTION: The visual scanning techniques used by helicopter pilots are a critical skill to accomplish safe and correct landing. According to the human information processing theory, visual scanning techniques can be analyzed as a function of fixation location, number, and duration of fixations.

METHODS: This study assessed these techniques in expert and novice pilots during an open sea flight simulation in a low-workload condition, consisting of a daylight and good weather simulation, and in a high-workload condition of night-time, low visibility, and adverse weather conditions. Taking part in the study were 12 helicopter pilots. Mental workload was assessed through psychological measures (NASA-TLX). The pilots performance was assessed and eye movements were recorded using an eye-tracker during four phases of the flight simulations.

RESULTS: Overall, pilots made more fixations out of the window (OTW; 22.54) than inside the cockpit (ITC; 11.08), Fixations were longer OTW (830.17 ms) than ITC (647.97 ms) and they were shorter in the low-demand condition (626.27 ms). Further, pilots reported higher mental workload (NASA-TLX) in the high-demand condition compared to the low-demand condition, regardless of their expertise, and expert pilots reported a lower mental workload compared to novice pilots.

DISCUSSION: Pilots performance and perceived mental workload varied as a function of expertise and flight conditions. Pilots rely on instrument support during the cruise phase and external visual cues during the landing phase. The implications for a new visual landing system design are discussed.

Rainieri G, Fraboni F, Russo G, Tul M, Pingitore A, Tessari A, Pietrantoni L. Visual scanning techniques and mental workload of helicopter pilots during simulated flight. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2021; 92(1):1119.
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Keywords: helicopter pilots; mental workload; visual scanning techniques

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2021

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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