Assessment of pilot performance and mental workload in rotary wing aircraft

Erik J. Sirevaag, Artilur F. Kramer, Christopher D. Wickens, Mark Reisweber, David L. Strayer, James F. Grenell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research examined the processing demands imposed upon experienced pilots by two different communication formats, digital and verbal, in a high fidelity simulation of an advanced multi-function helicopter. The mental workload imposed by the type and magnitude of communications was assessed by a battery of subjective, performance, secondary, and physiological measures. The performance data indicated that the pilots had difficulty adhering to the Nap of the Earth altitude criterion with high communication demands, particularly with the digital communication system. This was presumably due to the requirement to spend more time scanning the multi-function displays with the digital than with the verbal communication system. On the other hand, the pilots were less prone to task shedding when they used the digital communication system possibly due to the provision of a permanent Jist of queries that was unavailable with the verbal system. Measures of heart rate variability -and blink rate were larger with the verbal than with the digital system, presumably reflecting increased respiratory demands in the verbal condition as well as increased visual processing demands with the digital format. Finally, the probe evoked P300 component decreased in amplitude as a function of increases in the magnitude of communications. The results are discussed in terms of the structural and capacity demands of the communications systems that were proposed for the advanced multi-function helicopter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1121-1140
Number of pages20
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1993


  • Event-related brain potentials (ERPs)
  • Heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Helicopter flight
  • Mental workload
  • Psychophysiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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