Fighter pilots' heart rate, heart rate variation and performance during instrument approaches

Ergonomics. 2016 Oct;59(10):1344-1352. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2015.1136699. Epub 2016 Mar 4.


Fighter pilots' heart rate (HR), heart rate variation (HRV) and performance during instrument approaches were examined. The subjects were required to fly instrument approaches in a high-fidelity simulator under various levels of task demand. The task demand was manipulated by increasing the load on the subjects by reducing the range at which they commenced the approach. HR and the time domain components of HRV were used as measures of pilot mental workload (PMWL). The findings of this study indicate that HR and HRV are sensitive to varying task demands. HR and HRV were able to distinguish the level of PMWL after which the subjects were no longer able to cope with the increasing task demands and their instrument landing system performance fell to a sub-standard level. The major finding was the HR/HRV's ability to differentiate the sub-standard performance approaches from the high-performance approaches. Practitioner Summary: This paper examined if HR and HRV were sensitive to varying task demands in a fighter aviation environment and if these measures were related to variations in pilot's performance.

Keywords: heart rate; heart rate variation; performance; pilot mental workload.

MeSH terms

  • Aerospace Medicine / methods
  • Aircraft
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Aviation
  • Computer Simulation
  • Finland
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel
  • Pilots*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Workload