Human Factors in Aviation – 2nd Edition/2010 Review (ISBN 978-0-12-374518-7)

[Ref Human Factors in Aviation – 2nd Edition/2010 (ISBN 978-0-12-374518-7)]

Chapter 6 The Human in Flight: From Kinesthetic Sense to Cognitive Senibility

What’s “Kinesthetic” and “Cognitive”?

Kinesthetic: relating to a person’s awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body by means of sensory organs (proprioceptors) in the muscles and joints.

Cognitive: the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

The role of  the pilot has evolved from one characterized by sensory, perceptual, memory and motor skills to one characterized primarily by cognitive skills.

The reason is that the flightdeck has evolved into a hybrid ecology comprised of both naturalistic (external, physical) and electronic elements. In this environment, both visual and kinesthetic as well as (to a greater extent) cognitive sensibility are critical to the safety of humans in flight.

In the past, piloting aircraft used to be a very physical- and sensory- oriented task – require constant physical control inputs – flight control task was known as a “stick and rudder” process or known as “contact” flying. Judgments in early days of aviation were made via sensory – visual and kinesthetic. Advantage of “contact” flying is that pilots could easily discern a 5-mile reporting point – they have stroger visual and kinesthetic skills. However, they are prone to “correspondence errors” – the errors occur because of misreading the cues or making wrong decision due to lacking of sufficient cues (e.g Weather) – decisions not accurate enough.


Importance of experience?

Klein’s model of expert Recognition-Primed Decision Making describes expertise as the ability to identify critical cues in the environment, to recognize patterns of cues, and to understand the structural relationships among cues. According to this model, expert pilots look for familiar patterns of relevant cues, signaling situations that they have dealt with in the past, and base their responses on what they know “works”.

In simply words, experienced pilots are typically highly competent in correspondence strategies.


With advanced technologies, piloting aircraft can be conducted entirely without visual reference to the outside world – instrument-guided flight.

Now, flying task have become less physical- and sensory- oriented. Also, conflicts between visual and vestibular cues could use instruments to resolve. Limitations of night or bad weather conditions could be overcome with instruments as well. In short, the aircraft nowadays has been equipped with highly automation functions – management automation (FMS, e-checklists), information automation (EFIS, TCAS, Datalink), and control automation (“Fly-by-wire”)! Advantage of modern aircraft is less prone to low- or no-visibility conditions.


What’s spatial disorientation?

Spatial orientation refers to the perception of one’s body position in relation to a reference frame.

Spatial disorientation (SD) is a perceptual problem in which a pilot unable to correctly interpret aircraft position, motion, attitude, altitude or airspeed in relation to points of reference or to the earth – get lost!

There are 3 common types of spatial disorientation (SD):

  1. Unrecognized  (most dangerous type – can lead to CFIT)
  2. Recognized
  3. Incapacitating

The different between “recognized” and “incapacitating” type is that the later one make pilots feeling helplessness! They lost the faith to control the plane.


As mentioned above, (now) there are benefits of modern aircraft with highly automation functions. However, the downside is that pilots flying with instruments are subjected to spatial disorientation, and even suffering the worst type – incapacitating one. Therefore, pilots must never rely on sensations from their vestibular systems or from the pressure exerted on their bodies

Pilot must learn to relay on our instruments and to disregard our body sensations no matter how compelling it might be! (Liebowitz, 1998, P.101)

Also, flying in modern aircraft, our judgments are based on data rather than cues – our primary task is to supervise and monitor systems and information displays – and the task is primarily a cognitive task. The process require  cognitive control and analytical processing – rule-based and knowledge-based (rather than only experience-based).

Another problem about flying the modern aircraft is that it is prone to “Coherence errors” – errors occur because of failures to notice or process relevant data. It is also known as “Automation Surprises” – decisions not rational and consistent enough.





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