A Technical Analysis of Ergonomics and Human Factors in Modern Flight Deck Design

A Technical Analysis of Ergonomics and Human Factors in Modern Flight Deck Design

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I. Introduction
Since the dawn of the aviation era, cockpit design has become
increasingly complicated owing to the advent of new technologies enabling
aircraft to fly farther and faster more efficiently than ever before. With
greater workloads imposed on pilots as fleets modernize, the reality of he or
she exceeding the workload limit has become manifest. Because of the
unpredictable nature of man, this problem is impossible to eliminate completely.
However, the instances of occurrence can be drastically reduced by examining the
nature of man, how he operates in the cockpit, and what must be done by
engineers to design a system in which man and machine are ideally interfaced.
The latter point involves an in-depth analysis of system design with an emphasis
on human factors, biomechanics, cockpit controls, and display systems. By
analyzing these components of cockpit design, and determining which variables of
each will yield the lowest errors, a system can be designed in which the
Liveware-Hardware interface can promote safety and reduce mishap frequency.

II. The History Of Human Factors in Cockpit Design
The history of cockpit design can be traced as far back as the first
balloon flights, where a barometer was used to measure altitude. The Wright
brothers incorporated a string attached to the aircraft to indicate slips and
skids (Hawkins, 241). However, the first real efforts towards human factors
implementation in cockpit design began in the early 1930's. During this time,
the United States Postal Service began flying aircraft in all-weather missions
(Kane, 4:9). The greater reliance on instrumentation raised the question of
where to put each display and control. However, not much attention was being
focused on this area as engineers cared more about getting the instrument in the
cockpit, than about how it would interface with the pilot (Sanders & McCormick,
In the mid- to late 1930's, the development of the first gyroscopic
instruments forced engineers to make their first major human factors-related
decision. Rudimentary situation indicators raised concern about whether the
displays should reflect the view as seen from inside the cockpit, having the
horizon move behind a fixed miniature airplane, or as it would be seen from
outside the aircraft. Until the end of World War I, aircraft were manufactured ...

... middle of paper ...

...anifest. The discussion of biomechanics in chapter three was purposely
broad, because it is such a wide and diverse field. The concepts touched upon
indicate the areas of concern that a designer must address before creating a
cockpit that is ergonomically friendly in the physical sense. Controls and
displays hold a little more relevance, because they are the fundamental control
and feedback devices involved in controlling the aircraft. These were discussed
in greater detail because many of those concepts never reach the conscious mind
of the operator. Although awareness of these factors is not critical to safe
aircraft operation, they do play a vital role in the subconscious mind of the
pilot during critical operational phases under high stress. Because of the
unpredictable nature of man, it would be foolish to assume a zero tolerance
environment to potential errors like these, but further investigation into the
design process, biomechanics, control and display devices may yield greater
insight as far as causal factors is concerned. Armed with this knowledge,
engineers can set out to build aircraft not only to transport people and
material, but also to save lives.

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