Guide Aviation Visual Perception (Ashgate Studies in Human Factors for Flight Operations)

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A leading cause of delays at major commercial airports is low visibility during the critical phases of flight Allan et al. Limited visibility is also the largest contributing factor in fatal airline accidents worldwide Federal Aviation Administration In addition to increasing flight safety, the potential economic benefits of reducing flight delays and cancellations drive the development of new technologies to increase operational capacity in degraded visual environments for civil aviation Prinzel Iii et al.

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The operational benefits of rotary-wing aircrafts include the capacity to fly at low altitude, take-off and land vertically, and hover with zero ground speed Baker et al. The ability to fly to unimproved landing sites, without aviation-related ground infrastructure, extends the potential use of rotary-wing aircraft for public transportation BHA and, however, also leads to a greater exposure to potential risks, especially when operating in degraded visual conditions.

In , an accident in the UK saw the death of an experienced rotary-wing pilot and a civilian after a helicopter collided with a crane jib, whilst flying through dense fog, in central London AAIB Whilst the demand for civilian helicopters with the capacity to operate in degraded visual conditions is substantial, the development of cockpit technologies to facilitate such a pursuit is in its infancy.


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The lack of suitable technology is apparent when compared to that available within both civilian fixed-wing aircraft or within the military domain Doehler et al. Swail and Jennings completed a Human Factors analysis of rotary-wing search and rescue operations and highlighted that a number of mission critical elements are impossible to complete without advanced technology to facilitate the task.

It is likely that continuing with such operations, despite the inherent safety risks, offers partial explanation for the higher accident rates associated with rotary-wing aircrafts compared to fixed-wing counterparts Doehler et al. The current study developed and tested a potential future cockpit technology, a new head-up display HUD to facilitate the operation of civilian rotary-wing aircrafts in degraded visual environments. According to this definition, information or knowledge concerning situation awareness is held in the working memory of an individual, supporting their comprehension and knowledge of a situation Bell and Lyon ; Endsley One criticism that can be levelled at this definition, however, is that it focuses on situation awareness at the level of the individual human agent.

Situation awareness may be distributed across multiple agents, both human and nonhuman, within a system Stanton et al. Additionally, situation awareness should not be viewed as a linear information processing construct, but rather a cyclical, parallel and dynamic activity that continuously changes across time Harris From a systems perspective, during flight, situation awareness is distributed across the cockpit.

Not all information has to be held in the working memory of the pilot, rather the optimal interaction of the socio-technical system, comprised of both the pilot and on-board technologies, maintains adequate pilot situation awareness Stanton et al. The primary performance factors impacting upon rotary-wing aircraft accidents near off shore drilling platforms have been identified as awareness of obstacles at the destination; sufficiency of visual cues for approach; and stability of visual cues and sufficiency of visual aids for landing as primary performance factors Nascimento et al.

Identifying what cues and information pilots require for flight during operations in degraded visual environments may be aided by understanding the information pilots utilise in optimal flying conditions.

Ashgate Studies in Human Factors for Flight Operations

Alongside instrumentation checks, information from the external environment including physical geometry of terrain and objects, texture density and the rate of visual flow inform pilot situation awareness Foyle et al. Pilots can no longer fly in an anticipatory fashion; instead a shift is required to reactionary pursuit control where cockpit instrumentation is used to generate mental models and drive appropriate schema selection rather than to confirm such processes Doehler et al.

Despite an improvement on older cockpit technologies Harris , current cockpit technologies still presents information in a coded fashion that requires extensive computation for understanding. The use of cockpit information therefore induces greater workload and increased processing time in comparison to the use of environmental cues Prinzel Iii et al. Cognitive demand can be defined as the mental effort an operator must expend on a task, relative to their available resources, or, the cost of information processing required when performing a given task Harris ; Farmer and Brownson When operating in degraded visual conditions, the extra processing required of information presented in the cockpit instrumentation greatly increases cognitive demand.

In such situations, individuals typically seek ways in which to reduce cognitive processing load Blascovich et al. It is common for individuals to use cognitive shortcuts heuristics and previous experience to streamline the decision making process. Whilst the use of such techniques can reduce cognitive load and facilitate rapid decision making, they are also prone to errors bias, reduced overall productivity and reduced performance Harris ; Klein Improving pilot situation awareness and optimising workload are the primary aims of future cockpit technologies, particularly those aimed at facilitating flight in degraded visual environments Harris ; Melzer The presentation of information in a HUD does not require the pilot to divert visual attention and cognitive resources into the cockpit, such as required with traditional head-down displays HDD.

This in turn reduces the requirement to direct gaze and attention away from external events and primary flight references, potentially reducing workload and increasing situation awareness Snow and Reising ; Ververs and Wickens ; Snow and French A HUD is a glass mounted panel in the pilots near visual field that displays flight information, typically 2D traditional flight references e. The primary objective of the HITS is to facilitate the tasks of flying and navigating Alexander et al.

HITSs have been shown to facilitate increased maintenance of lateral and vertical flight path awareness Williams et al. Conformal symbology provides a detailed, realistic representation of the terrain in front of the aircraft and potential obstacles present within the local environment at low altitude Thomas and Wickens Conformal symbology leads to faster detection response to changes in symbology and improved flight path tracking accuracy Fadden et al.

Furthermore, data from real flight studies have indicated that conformal symbology provides improved path control and situation awareness in terrain-challenged operating environments Prinzel et al.

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Whilst currently, HUDs are typically cockpit glass panels, future cockpit technologies are looking to extend the potential of such displays to be embedded more holistically within the cockpit, offering greater freedom of view opposed to the more narrow forward facing view currently available.

Although current head-mounted displays are available, Frey argued that new technology will only succeed whether it increases perceived freedom and control. The use of full cockpits HUDS, with greater perceived freedom, as pursued in this study, is therefore preferable. Whilst the benefits of HUDs are well documented, there is debate concerning their usefulness and concerns regarding their potential to negatively affect pilot behaviour.

The HUD is useful for anticipated events; however, the detection of unexpected events may be degraded by attentional tunnelling Fadden et al. This occurs when attention is allocated to a particular channel of information e. HITS , for longer that is optimal, resulting in other task relevant information or additional tasks being neglected, for example potential risk objects within the external environment Wickens and Alexander ; Snow and French Due to the potential negative outcomes associated with HUD use, the development and design of this technology is critical.

Functional benefits including easier access to information and facilitated flight performance must be maximised whilst the potential for negative behaviours, such as attentional tunnelling must be minimised. To maximise the benefits of HUDs, designers must preserve the most useful and unambiguous visual cues pilots naturally use so that information is processed intuitively Foyle et al.

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An overly cluttered HUD can be detrimental to pilot task performance and situation awareness, particularly when task irrelevant information is presented in demanding situations Yeh et al. The presentation of intuitive and useful flight information in a HUD may also be useful in clear visual conditions, not just in terms of the reduced visual scan required but also to facilitate integration of different information forms Ververs and Wickens The current study aims to develop and assess the usefulness of a HUD with 2D flight semiology and 3D conformal semiology.

The use of flight simulators to explore the Human Factors issues which could emerge through the use of novel flight instrumentation and technology is an established research trend Oberhauser and Dreyer The current work is the refinement of a HUD previously tested which was shown to improve pilot situation awareness and reduce workload Stanton et al. In this study, a number of problems were highlighted with the HUD; Firstly, pilot awareness of power was impaired across all experimental conditions; suggesting the manner in which power was represented was inadequate.

Secondly, the HUD did not affect pilot awareness of rate of descent and drift. The current study tested the effectiveness of an iteration of the HUD concept, which aimed to retain the functional benefits of the previous design, whilst simultaneously targeting the issues encountered in earlier designs.

A further methodological issue when testing the initial HUD concept was a small sample size. The current study uses a larger sample size to conduct an evaluation with greater statistical power. Pilot workload will be reduced and situation awareness increased in degraded visual conditions when pilots have access to the HUD compared to degraded visual conditions without HUD. No difference in workload or situation awareness will be observed between flight in degraded visual conditions with HUD and clear visual conditions without HUD.

The HUD shall have no detrimental impact on performance during clear visual conditions i. Participants were recruited using advertisement posters disseminated at local airfields alongside recommendations from acquaintances of pilots who had previously participated within the research study. All participants had piloted, a real aircraft or a high fidelity simulator, within a year of the study.

Ethical permission for this study was granted by the Research Ethics Committee at the University of Southampton and all participants provided informed written consent. The independent variables were weather condition clear sky or degraded visual environment and symbology used with or without HUD. The order of presentation of the conditions was counterbalanced between the participants. In addition to the basic study design, all participants completed a base flight prior to the experimental conditions on the same flight profile as the experimental conditions, in clear weather without the HUD.

The base flight was repeated at the end of the experiment to examine whether familiarisation with the flight model across the experimental conditions had impacted upon results. A fixed-based flight deck simulation facility at the University of Southampton was used rotary-wing configuration.

The simulator was comprised of a two-seater cockpit with five multi-function display units. The external view, as would be seen from the cabin, was presented across three desktop monitors.


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  • Participants were seated in the right-hand seat which was configured with rotary-wing controls. The simulated environment ran using Prepar3D previously Microsoft flight simulator software. Prepar3D software is highly customisable and allowed the required weather conditions to be simulated. The flight scenario was located over a helipad at the Norfolk naval base, Virginia, USA, using the Eurocopter flight model. This model was chosen to be a more stable helicopter than the Bell used within previous work Stanton et al. In the clear sky conditions, the clear weather setting was selected, allowing pilots a considerable view.

    In the degraded visibility conditions, the fog setting reduced visibility to approximately 0. The flight controls were the rotary-wing Pro-Flight Trainer evolution control system, consisting of the anti-torque pedals, collective and cyclic. The flight controls interfaced with the flight simulator via a USB connection.

    The head-down display HDD was displayed to the pilots on the laptop computer positioned in front of the three monitors. The HDD was available to the pilots throughout all four conditions. The HDD was part of the Prepar3D software and consisted of analogue flight instruments, including: attitude indicator, airspeed indicator, a compass, heading indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator and Torque indicator. The development of the HUD forms part of a larger research project in which the concept was designed with the aid of Cognitive Work Analysis see Stanton and Plant , ; Stanton et al.

    The primary objective of the HUD was that it would be capable of assisting the pilot with performing approach and landing in degraded visual environments. A full colour system and extended field-of-view e. This is a software tool specifically developed for interface display design and provides the ability for its display instruments to be controlled from external applications e. A two-way data interface was developed to allow flight data to be transferred from Prepar3D and synchronised symbology to be transferred from GL studio.

    During the flight conditions with the HUD, the concept was overlaid onto the simulated environment using a ghost window application.


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    • The HUD contained the following 2D flight instruments: conformal compass, heading readout, airspeed indicator, gull wing horizon line, attitude indicator, vertical speed indicator, air speed indicator, wind direction and strength indicator, ground speed and distance to go. The current HUD did not include a HITS, it is hoped future versions shall include such symbology; however, in the interest of rigour, it was decided initial testing should focus on the presentation of conformal symbology at the landing site.

      Landing symbology in the HUD, clear sky condition numbers relate to description in text above. The magenta ring represents the aircrafts orientation i.