Avionics News October 2016 - 35
Ian Johnson flies a Beech 350 simulator at the Cockpit Simulation Center at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Johnson is a human factors researcher in the FAA's NextGen Aviation Weather Division's Weather Technology in the Cockpit program.
fog on the way to their destinations. This could result in loss of
control of the aircraft, which could be fatal. The displays used in
the simulator studies are those currently on the market, and the
manner in which they present weather information to the pilot
varies a great deal.
METAR symbols also show what the weather is like at the
alternate airports. During Johnson's short flight, the symbols
start to change from blue to yellow, depicting which airports
now have IFR rather than VFR weather. It is all too easy to
miss the change in color depending on the presentation. This is
particularly true for a single pilot who is multitasking, scanning
for other traffic out the window while also checking for other
information, not just weather information, when glancing down
to scan the instrument panel.
During the experiments, many of the volunteer pilots do
miss the changes and continue on when they should be thinking about heading for an alternate airport or making a decision
to turn around and fly another day. These lost decision-making
windows point to gaps in displays that FAA researchers plan to
highlight in reports on these simulator sessions. The findings
will guide both the FAA safety organization and private-sector
cockpit display designers on how to make the presentation of
weather information more consistent and effective.
Doing this type of research is exactly what Johnson, who also
is a general aviation pilot, had in mind when he graduated from
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a master's degree
in aeronautical science focused on human factors in aviation
systems. He also earned his bachelor's degree at Embry-Riddle
in human factors psychology and a second master's degree in
aeronautical science in aviation/aerospace safety systems.
Ulf Ahlstrom, FAA NextGen engineering research psychologist, in front of
a general aviation simulator.
These degrees provide a perfect foundation for what Johnson is doing now with WTIC. The WTIC program is part of a
wide-ranging effort by the FAA's NextGen Aviation Weather
Division to ensure critical weather information is ready for the
Identifying targets for NextGen weather research is a matter
of finding gaps in the flow and use of information and making a
determination on whether fixing the gap will improve operational efficiency, safety or reduce environmental impact in the
national airspace system. The benefits can be for commercial,
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