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The Future of Flight Safety

Thirty thousand feet up in the air the only pilot in the cockpit suddenly has a severe heart attack. How will the plane land safely?

That’s one of several scenarios students and faculty in the Center for Human Factors in Advanced Aeronautics and Technologies are considering as they work with NASA on the feasibility of single pilot operations for commercial flight.

Known as CHAAT, the Center is one of just 13 university research centers in the nation sponsored by NASA. It has received about $6.5 million in funding to conduct research on future flight management concepts, like single pilot operations and the integration of drones into the National Airspace System.

Led by Psychology faculty members Tom Strybel, Kim Vu, Dan Chiappe and James Miles and Panadda Marayong from Mechanical Aerospace Engineering, students run through a variety of scenarios using unique simulators that are connected with scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center. They look at how pilots and air traffic controllers perform when faced with different situations like extreme weather, the closure of an airport and an increase in air traffic.

Since 2006, 49 students have coauthored papers highlighting their findings. Roughly half of these students are from underrepresented groups. In addition, CHAAT students have been coauthors with six CSULB faculty members, 10 NASA scientists and six professionals from Boeing, Rockwell Collins and Northrup-Grumman. Several of the simulations CHAAT students have supported received NASA awards, including a recent one on single pilot operations conducted last summer.

Twenty-seven students have been chosen for summer internships at one of NASA’s centers, giving them real-world experience in human factors. Five of those students were hired by NASA as a civil servant or NASA contractor after earning their master’s degree in human factors at CSULB.

“The students who work in the Center graduate with a network of mentors consisting of CSULB faculty and human factors professionals from government organizations and commercial enterprises,” Dr. Vu said. “This network not only facilitates their ability to obtain entry positions in human factors, but is useful throughout their careers.”

Research @ the Beach | Student Research