Innovative Methods for Correlating Physiological Measures of Pilot Workload to Handling Qualities
Navy SBIR 2019.2 - Topic N192-071
NAVAIR - Ms. Donna Attick -
Opens: May 31, 2019 - Closes: July 1, 2019 (8:00 PM ET)


TITLE: Innovative Methods for Correlating Physiological Measures of Pilot Workload to Handling Qualities


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Human Systems ACQUISITION PROGRAM: PMA275 V-22 Osprey

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 3.5 of the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.


OBJECTIVE: Develop a test-enabling technology that allows quantitative measurement of pilot workload via physiological characteristics for the purposes of handling qualities evaluation and tuning and demonstrating the technology in both simulated and flight test environments.


DESCRIPTION: Specifications for all modern flying qualities rely on handling qualities ratings (HQRs) for evaluation and tuning. HQRs are qualitative ratings based on a measure of success at meeting tolerances and a self- assessed pilot workload. While tolerances can be quantitatively measured, self-assessed pilot workload is qualitative but highly dependent upon the specific pilot, task at hand, conditions, and many other factors. The ability to accurately and repetitively quantify workload in-situ during testing would significantly increase efficacy and efficiency of handling qualities-related control law development, providing more mission capability to the fleet, with fewer flight test hours.


Efforts to quantitatively measure workload via control inceptor inputs have shown limited success partially because they inherently assume every pilot's perception of workload is the same [Ref 6]. In practice, correlation of inceptor inputs and perceived workload varies greatly pilot to pilot. This makes comparison across pilots difficult and may limit the method's usefulness outside of academic applications. This SBIR topic seeks to determine if there is a strong correlation between pilot perceived workload and physiological measurements of the pilots themselves.

Attempts to establish a correlation between perceived workload and physiological measurements have been made in the past with some positive results, but none that carried these results to a useful technological solution [Ref 7].

The end goal is to develop a sensor suite and software that can measure physiological response to pilot workload in a way that can be correlated to qualitative handling qualities. The sensor suite and any associated analysis software must allow near real-time measurement of pilot workload (result may be generated post test point but must be generated prior to the following test point). This technology must be capable of being deployed in both piloted simulation and flight test settings without negatively impacting the pilot’s ability to control the aircraft. Also, it must not require significant additional support or planning on the part of the test team for incorporation into handling qualities tests. For flight testing, the technology must be designed to address issues such as electromagnetic noise, packaging constraints, ease of use, and compatibility with aircrew gear. The system must have an option to be self- powered though it may use instrumentation power if available. The system must be able to be removed such that there is no lasting modification to the test aircraft once the testing is complete.


Note: NAVAIR will provide Phase I performers with the appropriate guidance required for human research protocols so that they have the information to use while preparing their Phase II Initial Proposal. Institutional Review Board (IRB) determination as well as processing, submission, and review of all paperwork required for human subject use can be a lengthy process. As such, no human research will be allowed until Phase II and work will not be authorized until approval has been obtained, typically as an option to be exercised during Phase II.


PHASE I: Determine the technical feasibility of physiological measurements for use in simulator and flight test environments. Develop a broad list of sensors and data analysis techniques and show how they could be combined to result in strong correlation to handling qualities. Perform basic laboratory testing to aid in the development of candidate sensors and prototype analytical software. Demonstrate the feasibility of the developed candidate sensors and analysis software that will be further refined and tested in Phase II. Provide a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) assessment. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.


Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding human research protocol for Phase II.


PHASE II: Develop an integrated set of sensors and analysis software based on the outcome of Phase I. Develop and conduct piloted simulation tests to tune and evaluate the technologies using multiple pilots, across a variety of Mission Task Elements (MTE), and against several flight dynamics simulation models. Reduce the data collected during the simulation testing to refine the sensors and software to show strong correlation to pilot-assessed handling qualities. Desired correlation is +/-1 HQR to pilot assigned values as defined in ADS-33E-PRF Figure 1 [Ref 1].


Provide as deliverables: (1) the finalized sensor suite and accompanying software analysis package, (2) the results of the simulations testing showing correlation to handling qualities, and (3) a proposed path to mature the product to a level sufficient for aircraft operation. Update the Phase I Technology Readiness Level (TRL) assessment based on results from Phase II work.


Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding human research protocol for Phase II.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Mature the sensor suite and analysis package developed in Phase II to a level that can be effectively deployed in a flight test. Produce the final, flight-test ready sensor suite and software analysis package. Demonstrate the effective use of the matured technology in a flight test environment. Provide a report that outlines the detailed specifications of the flight-test ready sensor suite and accompanying software analysis package and documents results of the flight test demonstration. Deliver the physical sensor suite, accompanying software analysis package, and user guidance documentation to the Government.


This technology is directly applicable to any flight testing (rotary or fixed-wing) where qualitative handling qualities are to be used for evaluation, development, or certification. The military has been using qualitative HQRs for many years for these purposes but the FAA is poised to incorporate these methods into the certification of civil aircraft in the future. In addition, any industry where managing human workload/capacity could utilize this technology to establish baselines and improve performance such as air traffic control. This will be of keen interest in the field of autonomy-assisted operations where accurate measures of workload alleviation will be necessary to establish

effectiveness of new human-interactive concepts.



1.   Baskett, Barry J. "Aeronautical Design Standard Performance Specification Handing Qualities Requirements for Military Rotorcraft (ADS-33E-PRF)” Army Aviation and Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal, AL, 21 March 2000.


2.   Connor, Sidney A. and Wierwille, Walter W. “Comparative Evaluation of Twenty Pilot Workload Assessment Measures Using A Psychomotor Task In A Moving Base Aircraft Simulator (NASA-CR-166457).” Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University January 1983.


3.   Cooper, George E., and Robert P. Harper Jr. “The use of pilot rating in the evaluation of aircraft handling qualities.” Advisory Group for aerospace research and development Neuilly-Sur-Seine (France), No. AGARD-567, 1969.


4.   Hart, Sandra, compiler. “Research Papers and Publications (1981-1987): Workload Research Program.” NASA- TM-100016, August 1987.


5.   Suchomel, Charles F. “Automated Rating Technique (ART) for Measured Flying Quality Ratings.” AIAA Paper 96-3377, July 1996.


6.  Tritschler, John K., and John C. O’Connor. "Use of Time-Frequency Representations for Interpreting Handling Qualities Flight Test Data." AIAA Journal, 2016), pp. 2772-2779.


7.   Zacharias, G. L. “Physiological correlates of mental workload.” NASA-CR-166054, February 1980.


KEYWORDS: Handling Qualities; Workload; Physiological Measurement; Flight Test; Control Law Development; Qualitative Assessment



Matthew Rhinehart





Daniel Eksuzian





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