Visual Scanning Techniques and Mental Workload of Helicopter Pilots During Simulated Flight

Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2021 Jan 1;92(1):11-19. doi: 10.3357/AMHP.5681.2021.


INTRODUCTION: The visual scanning techniques used by helicopter pilots are a critical skill to accomplish safe and correct landing. According to the human information processing theory, visual scanning techniques can be analyzed as a function of fixation location, number, and duration of fixations.METHODS: This study assessed these techniques in expert and novice pilots during an open sea flight simulation in a low-workload condition, consisting of a daylight and good weather simulation, and in a high-workload condition of night-time, low visibility, and adverse weather conditions. Taking part in the study were 12 helicopter pilots. Mental workload was assessed through psychological measures (NASA-TLX). The pilots performance was assessed and eye movements were recorded using an eye-tracker during four phases of the flight simulations.RESULTS: Overall, pilots made more fixations out of the window (OTW; 22.54) than inside the cockpit (ITC; 11.08), Fixations were longer OTW (830.17 ms) than ITC (647.97 ms) and they were shorter in the low-demand condition (626.27 ms). Further, pilots reported higher mental workload (NASA-TLX) in the high-demand condition compared to the low-demand condition, regardless of their expertise, and expert pilots reported a lower mental workload compared to novice pilots.DISCUSSION: Pilots performance and perceived mental workload varied as a function of expertise and flight conditions. Pilots rely on instrument support during the cruise phase and external visual cues during the landing phase. The implications for a new visual landing system design are discussed.Rainieri G, Fraboni F, Russo G, Tul M, Pingitore A, Tessari A, Pietrantoni L. Visual scanning techniques and mental workload of helicopter pilots during simulated flight. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2021; 92(1):1119.

MeSH terms

  • Aircraft
  • Cues
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Pilots*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Workload