The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, recently completed the installation of a high fidelity flight simulator in its Operational Based Vision Assessment laboratory.
The simulator will be used to quantify the relationship between an observer’s visual capabilities, such as acuity and color discrimination, and their performance in simulated operational scenarios.
To generate meaningful data, performance limited by visual capabilities measured during the simulated operational scenarios must closely approximate that in the real world. Therefore, the design specifications of the OBVA simulator were much more demanding than those of a current training simulator. For example, the OBVA simulator displays 16 pixels for every 1 pixel in a typical training simulator. To maintain this high-pixel density in a visually immersive environment, the current system uses 9 high-pixel-count projectors to generate approximately 90 million pixels–approximately the same number of pixels in 40 high definition televisions. The high pixel density was required to ensure that the measured performance was due to the observers’ limitation, not the limitations of the simulator.
Initially, research at the OBVA laboratory will be concentrated on three visual capabilities: acuity, contrast sensitivity, and color discrimination. For the acuity and contrast sensitivity assessment, pilots will be tested on their ability to detect or identify potentially hazardous runway objects under a variety of conditions, including day or night and hazy or clear atmospheres. The color assessment procedures will measure pilots’ speed and accuracy in various scenarios to include aircraft landing using colored runway lighting and friend or foe identification using color coded symbology.
Assessments such as these serve a variety of purposes. First and foremost, they help train and select the best pilots for the U.S. Air Force. Secondly, they help USAFSAM build operational rigor into current Air Force vision standards. Because aviation technology is constantly evolving, the OBVA’s relationship quantification of visual capabilities and operational performance furthers USAFSAM’s ability to determine if vision standards should tightened or loosened. As such, the new OBVA simulator will offer superior testing of warfighter abilities, helping pilots complete their missions safely and successfully.