Sticking the Landing: Simulator built at Auburn measures UAV pilot fatigue

By Amelia Williams, College of Engineering



The most difficult part of flying is sticking the landing. Aircraft crashes occur most often during landing, which has become even more apparent since the advent of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Unlike traditional aircraft pilots, UAV pilots maneuver their vehicles from miles away with help from a computer monitor, where they are seated for hours at a time completing their missions.

Department head John Cochran, distinguished visiting research professor Harold Zallen and graduate student Judith Ann Bailey in Auburn University's Department of Aerospace Engineering are looking at human factors attributed to recent UAV crashes during landing. By using a fixed-base flight simulator built at Auburn they are able to simulate extended UAV missions, as well as monitor and measure pilot fatigue and errors.

"The government's goal is to reduce the fatigue experienced by UAV pilots and avoid devastating crash landings," said Bailey. "Unfortunately, there is no standard to quantify pilot fatigue. That's what we're working on."

The Auburn team's test pilots sit at a flight simulator console and watch a triple monitor while flying a Predator UAV. They demonstrate a series of maneuvers, including takeoff, ascending to 60,000 feet and cruising for 30 minutes. The test pilot then descends and lands the aircraft, the most difficult task in flying a UAV.

The researchers' tracking software is used to monitor the pilot's head movement in six degrees of freedom, which includes forward, backward, upward, downward and left to right movements combined with rotation of three perpendicular axes—pitch, yaw and roll. Information provided by the tracking software records fatigue during the simulation and the resulting data is used to quantify it.

Last Updated: Oct. 10, 2012

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