Military Embedded Systems

Navy, Georgia Tech develop system to identify talented UAS operators


September 05, 2017

Mariana Iriarte

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Navy, Georgia Tech develop system to identify talented UAS operators
Image by ONR

ARLINGTON, Va. Georgia Tech and the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute are developing a series of specialized tests to assess cognitive abilities and personality traits, as well as identify potential Navy and Marine Corps unmanned aerial system (UAS) operators. Office of Naval Research (ONR) officials are sponsoring these tests called Selection for UAS Personnel (SUPer).

"The temperament and personality of F-18 pilots won't necessarily be the same as those flying surveillance aircraft," says Cmdr. Brent Olde, a program officer in ONR's Warfighter Performance Department. "Neither will the required skill set be identical, so it's important that we create a standardized way to assess the abilities of future UAS operators."

SUPer comprises both written and computerized tests covering skills such as math knowledge, spatial orientation, reading cockpit dials. and critical thinking. Participants also study computer maps featuring prominent natural or manmade landmarks, but also need to remember object locations on larger, less defined maps.

Tests are followed by training exercises on a flight simulator designed to mirror common UAS missions. Participants also complete psychological and personality tests to ascertain if they would excel as UAS pilots, which often involves 12-hour shifts sitting in front of a control station, inside of an isolated command center.

"SUPer will be a valuable tool in helping the Navy pick the best people to become UAS operators, and determine who will be an optimal fit and find satisfaction in the role," says Dr. Phillip Ackerman, a Georgia Tech psychology professor overseeing SUPer's development.

Approximately 350 civilian and military volunteers are participating as SUPer research subjects at Ackerman's Georgia Tech laboratory and various Navy and Air Force training centers. The current version of the SUPer test battery takes approximately four hours to complete.

At the end of September, Ackerman and his research team will review the results; design a standardized exam for validation by prospective Navy and Air Force UAS pilots; and, hopefully, have a product ready for fleet implementation in 2018.

"Training pilots for manned and unmanned systems is time-intensive and expensive," said Lt. Cmdr. Tatana Olson, deputy director of the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory at the Naval Medical Research Unit, Dayton, and who serves as SUPer's government lead. "SUPer will define and assess the knowledge, skills and abilities required to be a successful UAS operator, and, ultimately, optimize naval use of human resources for unmanned aviation."

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