Introduction: Flying a helicopter is a complex psychomotor skill. Fatigue is a serious threat to operational safety, particularly for sustained helicopter operations involving high levels of cognitive information processing and sustained time on task. As part of ongoing research into this issue, the object of this study was to develop a field-deployable helicopter-specific psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) for the purpose of daily performance monitoring of pilots. Methods: The PVT consists of a laptop computer, a hand-operated joystick, and a set of rudder pedals. Screen-based compensatory tracking task software includes a tracking ball (operated by the joystick) which moves randomly in all directions, and a second tracking ball which moves horizontally (operated by the rudder pedals). The 5-min test requires the pilot to keep both tracking balls centered. Results: This helicopter-specific PVT ' s portability and integrated data acquisition and storage system enables daily field monitoring of the performance of individual helicopter pilots. The inclusion of a simultaneous foot-operated tracking task ensures divided attention for helicopter pilots as the movement of both tracking balls requires simultaneous inputs. Discussion: This PVT is quick, economical, easy to use, and specific to the operational flying task. It can be used for performance monitoring purposes, and as a general research tool for investigating the psychomotor demands of helicopter operations. While reliability and validity testing is warranted, data acquired from this test could help further our understanding of the effect of various factors (such as fatigue) on helicopter pilot performance, with the potential of contributing to helicopter operational safety.
- Flight safety
- Human factors