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Heart Rate and Performance During Combat Missions in a Flight Simulator

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Lahtinen TMM, Koskelo JP, Laitinen T, Leino TK. Heart rate and performance during combat missions in a flight simulator. Aviat Space Environ Med 2007; 78:387–391.



Introduction: The psychological workload of flying has been shown to increase heart rate (HR) during flight simulator operation. The association between HR changes and flight performance remains unclear. Methods: There were 15 pilots who performed a combat flight mission in a Weapons Tactics Trainer simulator of an F-18 Hornet. An electrocardiogram (ECG) was recorded, and individual incremental heart rates (ΔHR) from the HR during rest were calculated for each flight phase and used in statistical analyses. The combat flight period was divided into 13 phases, which were evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5 by the flight instructor. Results: HR increased during interceptions (from a mean resting level of 79.0 to mean value of 96.7 bpm in one of the interception flight phases) and decreased during the return to base and slightly increased during the ILS approach and landing. ΔHR appeared to be similar among experienced and less experienced pilots. ΔHR responses during the flight phases did not correlate with simulator flight performance scores. Overall simulator flight performance correlated statistically significantly (r = 0.50) with the F-18 Hornet flight experience. Conclusions: HR reflected the amount of cognitive load during the simulated flight. Hence, HR analysis can be used in the evaluation of the psychological workload of military simulator flight phases. However, more detailed flight performance evaluation methods are needed for this kind of complex flight simulation to replace the traditional but rough interval scales. Use of a visual analog scale by the flight instructors is suggested for simulator flight performance evaluation.
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Keywords: Incremental heart rate; flight experience; military flying; psychological workload; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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