Helicopter human factors in focus

“For no other vehicle is the need for human factors research more critical, or more difficult.” Sandra G. Hart.

That’s a bold assertion that I had never heard anyone make before and consequently had never given much consideration to whether or not it might be the case. So let’s unpack that proposition a little by looking at the arguments that the author offers to back it up…

The safety dividend of aviation’s professional culture?

How much does an aviator’s own cultural identification with safety have a role in contributing to safety outcomes? Certain professions have strong and distinctive professional cultures. Aviation is one of these. Does a belief in a deep-rooted safety culture underpin how aviators identify as professionals?

The need for speed? How slowness has a value all of its own.

Human exploits in aviation have always been closely linked to our fascination for speed. We admire speed in its many guises and it remains a marker of achievement in almost any field you care to think of. In aviation, just as in many other walks of life, we often assume the faster the better. We associate speed with competence. But what if we could disassociate the idea of slowness with incompetence? What if instructors were made to teach the opposite? What if we came to associate a slow response with higher skill levels and greater professionalism?

Developing resilience to startle and surprise in helicopter operations

Also published in AirMed&Rescue April 2022 edition. https://www.airmedandrescue.com/latest/long-read/developing-resilience-helicopter-operations

What should startle and surprise training mean in an applied sense and how should we be approaching it? Do the differences between airline transport flight profiles and helicopter operations mean that we should be looking critically at how to approach the startle and surprise from a rotary wing perspective? Is it as significant a hazard in the low level, high workload, high obstacle environment in which helicopter crews spend much of their time?

The automation explosion: examining the human factor fallout

Also published in AirMed&Rescue, Nov 2021 edition.

Automation reduces workload, frees attentional resources to focus on other tasks, and is capable of flying the aircraft more accurately than any of us. It is simultaneously a terrible master that exposes many human limitations and appeals to many human weaknesses. As we have bid to reduce crew workload across many different tasks and increase situational awareness with tools including GPS navigation on moving maps, synthetic terrain displays, and ground proximity warning systems, we have also opened a Pandora’s Box of human factors to bring us back down to the ground with a bump. Sometimes literally.

Distributed Situation Awareness

Pretty much everyone in aviation is familiar with the concept of situation awareness. But as research interest in SA grew, the concept expanded from the individual level to how SA might apply in the context of larger and more complex systems. What does distributed SA actually mean? The idea is that SA is held by both human and non-human agents. Myriad technological artefacts within a system also hold some form of SA. Now if, like me, you initially struggle with the idea that an artefact (such as a radio, or altimeter) can have ‘awareness’, then bear with me…

ARE YOU A SPECIALIST AVIATOR? WHY DEVELOPING RANGE IS PART OF YOUR JOB.

Most of us will recognise amongst our colleagues that figure who has an unmatched knowledge of their aircraft and operational procedures but isn’t a natural team player, doesn’t share thought processes much, and just perhaps doesn’t quite integrate with the rest of his/her colleagues as comfortably as others. We admire technical knowledge in aviation, butContinue reading “ARE YOU A SPECIALIST AVIATOR? WHY DEVELOPING RANGE IS PART OF YOUR JOB.”

On Lookout and helicopters

The importance of an effective lookout. We’ve heard it from day one in aviation, a constant through our flying training days and beyond. The dangers of mid-air collision, obstacles, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) will always be there.  These are not static threats however, but are always evolving. Take the proliferation of drones asContinue reading “On Lookout and helicopters”

Flying SAR in the sunshine: What’s not to like?!

From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean: The Weather. Learning to adjust. And just learning. On moving to Valencia last year to try my hand at flying a Search and Rescue helicopter in Spain, the predominantly anti-cyclonic picture of Spain’s Mediterranean-facing east coast presented an entirely new meteorological situation to me. “SAR in the sunshine, what’sContinue reading “Flying SAR in the sunshine: What’s not to like?!”

Is Human Factors in aviation at a crossroads?

Now seems like a good time to look beyond the dark prism of the current COVID-induced crisis in aviation to consider a future beyond the mire. The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF) recently published a White Paper called “The Human Dimension in Tomorrow’s Aviation System”. It’s made up of a series ofContinue reading “Is Human Factors in aviation at a crossroads?”

Aviation safety culture and the paradox of success:  Can safety innovation keep pace with technological progress?

The aviation industry is hailed as a pioneer of safety practices, of open reporting, of just culture, and in learning from its mistakes. And given its remarkable safety record, this reputation is perhaps justified. Nevertheless, it would be both complacent and counter to those values themselves to believe that the goal of safety has alreadyContinue reading “Aviation safety culture and the paradox of success:  Can safety innovation keep pace with technological progress?”