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Tue, Jun 12, 2007

Researchers Developing Military Pilot Assignment Testing

Team Aims For August Presentation

In a kind of old-world matchmaker meets new-world technology project, researchers at Fort Rucker in Alabama are developing a test that will assist the Army in matching the best pilots to the best missions and aircraft.

According to the Army News, the computer-based testing program is called the Track Assignment Classification Tool and is designed to ensure Army aviators enjoy a long and successful career -- and save the Army a few bucks in the process.

About a year ago, the Army decided it needed "a classification instrument for assigning aviator candidates to a specific aviation mission and aircraft type." Enter research psychologist Dr. Larry Katz and his research team at Fort Rucker's US Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences Rotary Wing Aviation Research Unit.

"The whole idea is that this should increase pilots' job satisfaction because we are placing them where they look like they best fit based on their skills, abilities, personality constructs and demographics," said Katz. "The rationale is that if we could assign individuals to the aircraft and mission type that they are best suited for, it might increase retention and improve an aviator's career overall."

Once out of flight school, aircraft-to-pilot matchups are currently based on grades. Top of the class usually gets their choice of the top of the line; the bottom pretty much gets whatever is left.

The test takes about two and half hours and evaluates things like spatial apperception, mechanical comprehension, perceptual speed, and accuracy and personality characteristics. The written portion is in multiple-choice and scenario format.  The testing station includes a joy stick, throttle, head phones and computer monitor.

"Yes, the test is challenging, but fun, too, because it is a bit like playing a video game," Dr. Katz said.

CW4 Danny Andrews is an instructor and flight examiner who has been assisting with the test's development. He labels TACT challenging and "difficult" because certain parts of the test require major amounts of concentration.

Like the one part that tells pilots to track two "targets" on a computer screen but to simultaneously listen for just odd numbers in the right side of the headset. But, in the real world, pilots have to multi-task like that, Andrews notes.

"The environment the test creates is very similar to what pilots would be doing in the aircraft," he said.

The head of the Rotary Wing Aviation Research Unit, Dr. William Howse, predicts the TACT will maximize training success by better fitting students to aircraft, according to the Army News.

"(We are trying to) improve the aviators while keeping the costs in control," he said. "By selecting the right people, we reduce training losses (like) individuals who don't complete the training."

Katz and his team plan to run 120 test subjects through the test before making a final presentation to the Army. The test subjects will be made up of mainly instructor-pilots or standardization-pilots with at least 500 flight hours, Katz said.

He said he hopes to present the completed product in August.

It is unknown when the Army would implement the test after approval. Katz said other tests he and his team have created were usually put into practice within about six months.

"This is much better than what we have been doing in the past," Andrews. "It (the test) is going to make a huge difference in Army Aviation."

FMI: www.army.mil

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