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The first mile is traveled: concluded the testing of the HIRA system on aircraft used by the Casalese Aeroclub flight school.

The results are finally available and, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that the results are truly relevant to the achievement of a new standard of flight safety.

Buckle up, we are about to take off!

The trial, involving Next2U s.r.l. and Aeroclub Casalese SCSD, now Aero Monferrato, was created with the aim of testing the HIRA system's ability to assess, in real time, the workload of pilots engaged in obtaining the PPL/LAPL flight license.

Piloting an aircraft is a demanding task, physically and emotionally: according to a recent study(1), more than 78% of pilots participants agreed with the following sentence: “Some source of work-related stress have a significant negative impact on my performance.” Moreover, almost the 75% of them, stated to agree with the following sentence: “Some sources of work-related stress have a negative impact on my performance and therefore have a potential impact on flight safety”.

In this context, the pilot monitoring assumes a key role.

The activity, carried out aboard a Piper PA-28-161 of the Aero Monferrato’s fleet, involved six trainees with a total of 24 flights performed. As planned, the HIRA system was used to automatically acquire and record the cognitive workload level (according to the NATO Bedford Workload Rating Scale), after being initialized by the instructor pilot, who was always present during all flight operations.

An average of 2-3 recordings were performed during each flight, with varying flight mission and recording durations from a few minutes to over an hour.

To fulfill the purpose of the experiment, since a truth matrix was needed to determine the accuracy of the methodology, trainees were asked to report their perceived workload (with reference to the NATO Bedford Scale) to the instructor pilot at the end of each operation of interest.

Trainees reported their perceived workload referring to the NATO Bedford Scale after each operation to create a truth matrix for the experiment. These annotations, ranging from 1 to 6, were valuable for assessing mission difficulty. A rating of 3 was most common, indicating a manageable workload allowing attention to multiple tasks. Higher perceived workloads led to mission disruptions for effective training.

Left: HIRA sensing unit mounting detail. Right: Piper PA-28-161 used for experimentation.

The HIRA system proved robust against aircraft vibrations and optical disturbances, such as varying light, sunglasses, and headsets. Instructor pilots reported no interference with normal operations or on-board instruments. Trainees experienced no discomfort from wearing the biometric smartwatch or from the system's presence.

But how did HIRA perform?

The system has been under stress: handling the variables introduced by real flight was challenging but, overall, all flight missions were informative for the purpose of the experimentation.

The processing of the acquired data showed a significant correlation between the workload values reported by the student pilot and those predicted by the HIRA system.

HIRA system processing interface
Left: HIRA sensing unit housed in the aircraft cockpit. Middle: tablet, supplied to the instructor pilot, through which the HIRA system is operated. Right: HIRA system management tablet mounted on the thigh support provided to the instructor pilot.

By objectively monitoring the pilot's psychophysical state, HIRA can mitigate human factors, enhancing flight safety. During debriefing, analyzing flight mission exercises can boost student confidence and performance, while instructors can deliver more calibrated training.

Future developments include recording more sessions, managing more subjects in various situations, and converting HIRA into an even smaller compatible system. The significant results of this experimentation pave the way for the aviation industry to adopt this technology for training and real-world monitoring.

"Touchdown. But don't unbuckle. The journey to ever safer flights has just begun!

Next2u's Hira system has been featured once again in JP4 magazine. For the full article, please refer to JP4 Magazine pages 21 to 23.

1. (Joan Cahill · Paul Cullen1 · Keith Gaynor - Interventions to support the management of workrelated stress (WRS) and wellbeing/mental health issues for commercial pilots (© Springer-Verlag London Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2019))
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