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In-Flight Assessment of Workload Using Pilot Ratings and Heart Rate

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At present the most used and probably the most reliable methods for assessing pilot workload in flight are based on some form of subjective reporting by experienced test pilots. Unfortunately, subjective opinions are susceptible to bias and preconceived ideas and so many occasionally result in false estimates of workload. For more than fifteen years subjective reporting by pilots at RAE Bedford has been augmented by recording their heart rates. At first pilots described workload in a relatively unstructured manner but the need for some form of rating scale was soon apparent. After much trial and error and with the valuable assistance of practising test pilots a ten-point rating scale using the concept of spare capacity was developed fig 1. The overall design is based on the Handling Qualities Rating Scale of Cooper and Harper already familiar to Bedford test pilots and sometimes used previously, though mistakenly, to rate workload. During the last eight years a number of flight trials at Bedford, including the Harrier ski-jump take-off trial and the Economical Category 3 landing trials, have used pilot ratings and heart rate responses to assess workload. The rationale for using heart rate in assessing pilot workload is based on the concept of neurological arousal. Flying an aeroplane, especially during the more difficult manoeuvres, requires the pilots brain to collect, filter and process information quickly, to exercise judgement and make decisions, and to initiate rapid and appropriate actions.

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  • Psychology
  • Anatomy and Physiology

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