Airline pilots begin NASA-funded upset recovery study

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The first of 20 airline pilots taking part in a NASA-funded large transport upset recovery human factors analysis program have begun physiological testing in a sustained-G simulator at the Philadelphia headquarters of flight training provider Environmental Tectonics Corporation (ETC).

ETC, which won the NASA Langley Research Centre grant in 2006, yesterday tested the first five airline pilots in a full-motion spinning simulator, measuring the pilots' physiological responses to a series of 14 pre-programmed upset scenarios defined by US National Transportation Safety Board accident reports. The pilots had no prior formal upset recovery training in an aircraft or sustained-G simulator.

The sustained-G device provides flight simulation as well as actual G-forces using a cockpit module outfitted with Boeing 767 components attached to a three-axis cradle that spins to generate the forces that a pilot experiences in an actual aircraft.

Lack of G-force cues for upset recovery in ground-based full-motion simulators has become the topic of much debate due to several recent high visibility handling related airline accidents, including the crash of Pinnacle Airlines CRJ200 in 2004.

ETC has been developing an in-house ground-based sustained G-force upset recovery course for the ranks of civilian pilots, many of whom have never had the training other than in book work.

After physiological testing of the four groups of pilots, five pilots per group, ETC will then bring a separate group of 20 pilots through its 2-day upset recovery training curriculum, comparing and contrasting the performance of pilots. The company expects to finish the study by September.

Participants were selected by the Air Line Pilots Association union.