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Study into fighter pilot brain activity leads to intriguing find

Ahead of Defence IQ’s 2011 Military Flight Training conference, new research suggests that the brains of professional fighter pilots are wired differently to the average human, potentially paving the way to reducing costs for pilot training and recruitment.

Results from the study, led by Dr Masud Husain at University College London (UCL), were published in the December issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. Comparative experiments were conducted between a group of 11 seasoned RAF Tornado pilots and another of volunteers with no flight experience.

MRI scans and a series of cognitive tests demonstrated that the right-hemisphere white matter of the pilots’ brains exhibit an unconventional structure.

Dr Husain, a professor of Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, explained that fighter pilots are an “expert group making precision choices at high speed” and perform at the limits of cognitive ability.

The findings present an avenue for further analysis to attempt to discover whether successful pilots are born with this cognitive ability, or whether their brains undergo a physical change during the learning process. Understanding this could have a huge impact on both recruitment and training.

If found to be a natural ability, an early MRI scan on pilot applicants could immediately rule out those with the “wrong type” of brain, thereby streamlining the process and cutting away the expense of training candidates that are likely to prove unsuccessful.

The results also suggest that training methodology can be realigned to better fit the ways in which pilots assess, respond and learn, while new technologies such as the Helmet-Mounted Display System (HMDS) incorporated with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be open to enhancement to correlate further with the pilot’s perspective, and therefore improve situational awareness and reaction time.

This coming February, the Military Flight Training event is scheduled to take place at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London to help militaries worldwide deliver a cost-effective mix of live, simulated and classroom based training for modern aircrew. Aside to presentations on the leading international jet pilot programmes, the conference is dedicating a full day of focused analysis on the subject of UAV pilot training, including discussion on methodology, policy and regulations.

Military Flight Training 2011 will take place on February 08 – 10. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/MFTDS2, email defence@iqpc.co.uk, or telephone +44 (0) 20 7368 9300. Please quote your reference code: MFTDS2.

2 responses to “Study into fighter pilot brain activity leads to intriguing find

  1. Glen Grant January 10, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    The Swedes were doing research of similar lines at least 30 years ago. This concept is not new – but it is still interesting!

  2. David June 20, 2011 at 4:01 am

    What was the average I.Q. of the individuals associated in the testing process?

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