The Adolescence of
Aviation Psychology

By Stanley N. Roscoe, PhD

An expanded version of the following paper has since been published by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society as a monograph: The Adolescence of Engineering Psychology, Volume 1, 1997, Human Factors History Monograph Series, Steven M. Casey, Editor. Copies may be purchased from HFES for U$10.00 for HFES members and U$12.00 for nonmembers (prices include shipping/handling). Send payment with order to the Society at the address below; payment is accepted via check (payable to Human Factors and Ergonomics Society), MasterCard, or Visa. ISBN 0-945289-10-3

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Among the earliest experimental studies of the human factors in equipment design were those made during World War II at the Applied Psychology Unit of Cambridge University, England, under the leadership of Sir Frederick Bartlett. In 1939 this group began work on problems in the design of aviation and armored-force equipment (Bartlett, 1943; Craik, 1940). Prominent among the early contributors to engineering psychology at APL were Norman Mackworth, K. J. W. Craik, Margaret Vince, and W. E. Hick. Mackworth explored problems of human vigilance. Craik, Vince, and Hick performed classic studies on the effects of system-design variables on manual-control performance (e.g., Craik, 1944; Craik & Vince, 1943, 1944; Hick, 1945) and on direction-of-motion relationships between controls and displays (Vince, 1945).

Also in 1939, in the United States, the National Research Council Committee on Aviation Psychology was established. This committee, first chaired by Jack Jenkins of the University of Maryland and later by Morris Viteles of the University of Pennsylvania, stimulated a wide range of research in aviation psychology primarily at universities. With support from the NRC, Alexander C. Williams, Jr., working with Jenkins at the University of Maryland, began flight research in 1939 on psychophysiological "tension" as a determinant of performance in flight training. These experiments, involving the first airborne polygraph, also appear to have been the first in which pilot performance was measured and correlated with physiological responses in flight. The report of this research was completed in 1941 but was not released until after the war (Williams, Macmillan, & Jenkins, 1946).

In 1940 John Flanagan was recruited to set up a large aviation psychology program for the US Army. Several dozen leading psychologists were commissioned, starting with Arthur Melton, Frank Geldard, and Paul Horst (Koonce, 1984). With America's entry into the war, Flanagan's original organization, the Applied Psychology Panel of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), was greatly expanded and its work was extended into what was later to be known as the US Army Air Forces Aviation Psychology Program (Flanagan, 1947).

The history of the NDRC Applied Psychology Panel was recorded by Charles W. Bray (1948), who served as its chief, succeeding Walter S. Hunter. One of the projects started in 1942 was a study of Army antiaircraft artillery at Tufts College, directed by Leonard Mead and William Biel, which led to the development of a gun-director tracking simulator (Parsons, 1972). Early efforts in the United States to study manual control problems systematically were stimulated by the experiments of Harry Helson and W. H. Howe (1943) on the effects of friction and inertia in controls.

Human Engineering

While most of the psychologists in the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army and Navy were involved hands-on in aviator selection and training, others were occasionally called on to deal directly with the subtle problems aviators were having in operating their newly developed machines. During the war the term "pilot error" started appearing with increasing frequency in training and combat accident reports. It is a reasonably safe guess that the first time anyone intentionally or unknowingly applied a psychological principle to solve a design problem in airplanes occurred during the war, and it is possible that the frequent wheels-up-after-landing mishap in certain airplanes was the first such case (Roscoe, 1992).

It happened this way. In 1943 Lt. Alphonse Chapanis was called on to figure out why pilots and copilots of P-47s, B-17s, and B-25s frequently retracted the wheels instead of the flaps after landing. Chapanis, who was the only psychologist at Wright Field until the end of the war, was not familiar with the ongoing studies of human factors in equipment design. Still, he immediately noticed that the side-by-side wheel and flap controls-in most cases identical toggle switches or nearly identical levers-could easily be confused. He also noted that the corresponding controls on the C-47 were not adjacent and their methods of actuation were quite different; hence C-47 copilots never pulled up the wheels after landing.

Chapanis realized that the so-called pilot errors were really cockpit design errors and that by coding the shapes and modes-of-operation of controls the problem could be solved. As an immediate wartime fix, a small, rubber-tired wheel was attached to the end of the wheel control and a small wedge-shaped end to the flap control on several types of airplanes, and the pilots and copilots of the modified planes stopped retracting their wheels after landing. When the war was over, these mnemonically shape-coded wheel and flap controls were standardized worldwide, as were the tactually discriminable heads of the power control levers found in conventional airplanes today.

Peak Clipping

In the human engineering area of psychoacoustics, the intelligibility of speech transmitted over the noisy aircraft interphones of World War II presented serious problems for pilots and their crews. At Harvard University's Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory, S. S. Stevens, J. C. R. Licklider, and Karl D. Kryter, with help by a young George A. Miller, later the 77th president of the American Psychological Association, conducted a series of articulation tests of standard and modified interphones at altitudes of 5,000 and 35,000 feet in a B-17 bomber (Licklider & Kryter, 1944). Intelligibility was improved by peak clipping the powerful vowel sounds in human speech and then amplifying the remaining balanced mixture of vowels and consonants (Licklider & Miller, 1951). Incidentally, the psychologists also showed that the B-17 could operate effectively at 35,000 feet, which the Air Force had not yet fully realized.

Enter the Engineering Psychologists


In the Military

None of the wartime "human engineers" had received formal training in engineering psychology; indeed, the term hadn't even been coined. Those who became involved in the study of human factors in equipment design and its application came from various branches of psychology and engineering and simply invented the budding science on the job. B. F. Skinner stretched the concept a bit by applying his expertise in animal learning to the design of an air-to-sea guidance system that employed three kamikaze pigeons who learned to recognize enemy ships and voted on which way to steer the bomb they were riding (Skinner, 1960). It worked fine (and still would), but there were moral objections.

After the war, the field of engineering psychology quickly gained momentum. The Applied Psychology Unit in Cambridge, England, was expanded under the leadership of Donald Broadbent, who succeeded Sir Frederick Bartlett as Director. Christopher Poulton's comprehensive work at APL on the dynamics of manual control (integrated in his 1974 book) stands as a major contribution, as does his work in other areas. The psychologists of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough conducted a wide range of research under the direction of Air Marshal William Stewart, with John Rolf leading the flight simulation work. Alan Burrows, who learned his trade under Stewart, later headed a human factors unit at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach.

In the summer of 1945, the AAF Aviation Psychology Program included Colonels John Flanagan, Frank Geldard, J. P. Guilford, and Arthur W. Melton (Flanagan, 1947). By this time the program's personnel had grown to about 200 officers, 750 enlisted men, and 500 civilians (Alluisi, 1994). Their wartime work was documented in 1947 in a series of 19 publications that came to be known as the "blue books." Volume 19, edited by Paul Fitts (1947) and titled Psychological Research on Equipment Design, was the first major publication on human factors engineering, or simply "human engineering" as it was referred to in those times.

In August of 1945, with the war about to end, the AAF Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Field near Dayton established a Psychology Branch. The group, under Lt. Col. Paul Fitts, included 21 officers, 25 enlisted men, and 10 civilians that first year (Fitts, 1947). Prominent psychologists included Majors Judson S. Brown, Launor F. Carter, Albert P. Johnson, and Walter F. Grether; Captains Richard E. Jones, and H. Richard Van Saun; First Lieutenants Julien Christensen, John Cowles, Robert Gagne, John L. Milton, Melvin J. Warrick, and Wilse B. Webb, and civilian William O. Jenkins. Fitts was succeeded as Technical Director by Grether in 1949.

Meanwhile, Arthur W. Melton and Charles W. Bray were building the Air Force Personnel and Training Research Center, commonly referred to as "Afpatrick," into a huge research organization with laboratories at Mather, Sted, Williams, Tinker, Goodfellow, Lowry, Tyndall, Randolph, and Lackland Air Force Bases. Prominent psychologists included Edward Kemp at Mather, Robert Gagne at Lackland and later at Lowry, Lloyd Humphreys at Lackland, Jack Adams at Tyndall, and Bob French at Randolph. In 1958 this far-flung empire was dismantled by the Air Force. Most of the psychologists returned to academia, while others found civilian research positions in other laboratories.

The Navy was not to be outdone by the Air Force. In late 1945, human engineering in the Navy was centered at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, under Franklin V. Taylor. The stature of NRL was greatly enhanced by the originality of Henry Birmingham, an engineer, and the writing skills of Taylor, a psychologist. Their remarkable 1954 work, A Human Engineering Approach to the Design of Man-Operated Continuous Control Systems, had an unanticipated benefit; to understand it, psychologists had to learn about the electrical engineering concepts Birmingham had transfused into the psychology of manual control.

Another fortunate development in 1945 was the establishment of the Navy's Special Devices Center at Port Washington on Sands Point, Long Island, with Leonard C. Mead heading its Human Engineering Division. SDC invented and developed many ingenious training devices on site and monitored a vigorous university program for the Office of Naval Research, including the original contract with the University of Illinois Aviation Psychology Laboratory. Task Order XVI, as it was known, was renewed for 20 consecutive years. Mead went on to head an engineering psychology program at Tufts College and from there to the upper management of the college and eventually of the Smithsonian Institution.

Project Cadillac, the first complex manned-system simulation study was conducted at the Sands Point facility from 1948 until 1955, with experiments actually getting underway in 1951 (Parsons, 1972). The project, initially directed by New York University, grew out of the Navy's early problems with airborne combat information centers (CICs) designed to perform surveillance functions and later interception control. Robert Chapman, Vince Sharkey, and James Regan were prominent contributors. H. M. "Mac" Parsons cut his human engineering teeth on Project Cadillac in 1950 while still a graduate student at Columbia University. He stayed with the project when the NYU Electronic Research Laboratories split off as the Riverside Research Institute in 1952.
In 1946, a Human Engineering Division was formed at the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego under Arnold Small, whose first criterion for hiring, it seemed, was that an applicant could play the violin in the San Diego Symphony. Small, who had majored in music and psychoacoustics and played in the symphony himself, hired several musicians at NEL, including Max Lund, who later moved on to the Office of Naval Research in Washington, and Wesley Woodson, who published his Human Engineering Guide for Equipment Designers in 1954. Outstanding contributions were also made by John Stroud (1955), known for his "psychological moment" concept, and Carroll White (1956), who discovered and validated the phenomenal effect of "visual time compression" on noisy radar and sonar displays.

Similar to the pattern after the First World War, some psychologists remained in uniform, but more, including Grether, Melton, Bray, Kemp, Gagne, Humphreys, Adams, French, Taylor, Mead, and Small, stayed on as civil servants for varying tenures, as did Julien Christensen and Melvin Warrick, who had long careers at the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Field. Colonel Paul Fitts wore his uniform until 1949, then joined academia and opened his Laboratory of Aviation Psychology at Ohio State University. Many who had not completed their doctorates went back to graduate school on the GI Bill. A few who had earned Ph.D.s before the war joined universities where they could apply their wartime experiences to the training of a new breed of psychologists.

In Academia

On January 1, 1946, Alexander Williams, who had served both as a selection and training psychologist and as a naval aviator, opened his Aviation Psychology Laboratory at the University of Illinois (Roscoe, 1994). The laboratory initially focused on the conceptual foundations for mission analysis and the experimental study of flight display and control design principles (Williams, 1947, 1980). Soon a second major thrust was the pioneering measurement of transfer of pilot training from simulators to airplanes (Williams & Flexman, 1949; Flexman, Roscoe, Williams, & Williges, 1972). And by 1951 experiments were underway on the world's first air traffic control simulator (Johnson, Williams, & Roscoe, 1951).

Also on January 1, 1946, Alphonse Chapanis, who had served as a psychologist but not as a pilot, joined the Psychology Department of Johns Hopkins University. Initially, Chapanis concentrated on writing rather than building up a large research program with many graduate students, as Williams was doing at Illinois. The result was the first textbook in the field, Applied Experimental Psychology, a monumental work for its time and still a useful reference (Chapanis, Garner, & Morgan, 1949). With the book's publication and enthusiastic reception, engineering psychology had come of age, and aviation was to be its primary field of application in the years ahead.

Strong support for university research came from the Department of Defense, particularly from the Office of Naval Research and its Special Devices Center and from the Air Force's Wright Air Development Center and its Personnel and Training Research Center. The Civil Aeronautics Administration provided funds for human engineering research via Morris Viteles and his NRC Committee on Aviation Psychology. In 1950 that committee was composed of Viteles as chairman, N. L. Barr, Dean R. Brimhall, Glen Finch, Eric F. Gardner, Frank A. Geldard, Walter F. Grether, W. E. Kellum, and S. Smith Stevens.

The research sponsored by the CAA via the committee was performed mostly by universities and resulted in a series of studies that became known as "the gray cover reports." Number 84, by A. C. Williams, Jr., and S. N. Roscoe (1949), described the first experimental study of instrument displays designed for use with the new VOR/DME radio navigation system. Number 92, by S. N. Roscoe, J. F. Smith, B. E. Johnson, P. E. Dittman, and A. C. Williams, Jr. (1950), reported the first simulator evaluation of a map-type VOR/DME navigation display employing a CRT in the cockpit. Number 122 described the previously mentioned first air traffic control simulator (Johnson, Williams, & Roscoe, 1951).

When Paul Fitts opened his Laboratory of Aviation Psychology at Ohio State in 1949, he attracted a flood of graduate students, many of them veterans, as Alex Williams had been doing since 1946 at Illinois. Charles W. Simon, Oscar Adams, and Bryce Hartman started the flow of Fitts doctorates in 1952. Simon joined the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica and Adams the Lockheed-Georgia Company in Marietta. Hartman embarked on his long career at the Air Force School of Aviation Medicine in San Antonio. By that time the air traffic control studies for Wright Air Development Center were under way, and Conrad Kraft was developing his "broad band blue" lighting system for radar air traffic control centers (Kraft & Fitts, 1954).

Williams stayed at Illinois until 1955 when he joined Hughes Aircraft Company and fashioned a second career, this time as a practicing engineering psychologist (Roscoe, 1994). He was succeeded at Illinois by Robert C. Houston for two years and then by Jack A. Adams until 1965, when the laboratory was temporarily closed. Fitts remained at Ohio State until 1958 when he rejoined his wartime friend Arthur Melton, who had moved on to the University of Michigan when Afpatrick was being dismantled (Pew, 1994). Fitts was succeeded by another brilliant psychologist, George Briggs (Howell, 1994). Williams, Fitts, and Briggs all died of heart attacks at early ages, Williams and Briggs at 48 and Fitts at 53.

The laboratories of Williams at Illinois, Chapanis at Johns Hopkins, and Fitts at Ohio State were by no means the only ones involved in the engineering psychology field in the 1940s and early '50s, but they were the ones that produced the lion's share of the engineering psychologists during that period. Other universities with outside support for graduate students doing human engineering research in aviation included Harvard, MIT, California at Berkeley, UCLA, Southern California, Tufts, Purdue, Michigan, Columbia, and Maryland. Several prominent engineering psychologists were mentored by Ernest McCormick at Purdue in the late 1950s and early '60s.

In the Aviation Industry

The students of Williams and Fitts invaded the aviation industry in the early 1950s. The boom was on, especially in southwest Los Angeles where one could park along Airport Boulevard at the east end of LAX Runway 25 Left and see new North American and Douglas planes being rolled out and tested every day. Douglas-El Segundo alone had five different production lines running simultaneously in 1952. From a small hill near the airport, one could see the plants of Douglas, North American, Northrop, and Hughes, which were growing to enormous size, and Lockheed was just over the Hollywood Hills in Burbank. Strange planes like the Northrop flying wing flew low over the Fox Hills Golf Course.

I was Williams' first student at Illinois and received my Ph.D. in 1950 but stayed on at the lab for two years to complete a flight-by-periscope project for the Navy's Special Devices Center (Roscoe, Hasler, & Dougherty, 1952/1966). Then, in 1952, I was recruited by Hughes Aircraft Company to organize a Cockpit Research Group and went on to become manager of the Display Systems Department. Earlier that year Walter Carel, who had completed all but his dissertation at Columbia University, was hired by General Electric to do research on flight displays, and William B. Knowles joined GE soon thereafter. In 1955 Charles Hopkins and Charles Simon joined Williams and me at Hughes, and Knowles and Carel soon followed.

Starting in 1953, several of the airplane and aviation electronics companies hired psychologists, but few of these had training in engineering psychology, and fewer yet had specialized in aviation. As the graduates of the universities with aviation programs started to appear, they were snapped up by industry and by military laboratories as it became painfully apparent that not all psychologists were alike. In a few cases groups bearing such identities as cockpit research, human factors, or human factors engineering were established. In other cases the new hires were assigned to the "Interiors Group," traditionally responsible for cockpit layouts, seating, galleys, carpeting, and rest rooms.

In this environment, Neil Warren in the Psychology Department at the University of Southern California and John Lyman in the Engineering Department at UCLA introduced advanced degree programs for many who would distinguish themselves in the aerospace field. Starting in the late 1940s, Warren had used the human centrifuge on the University of Southern California campus (at that time the only one on the west coast) to do display research. It was in Warren's facility that it was first demonstrated that a single "drag" on a cigarette would measurably reduce the number of G's a pilot could withstand before "graying out" in the centrifuge.

Harry Wolbers, a 1955 Warren graduate, was the first engineering psychologist hired by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Wolbers was the human factors leader for Douglas in their prime contract for the Army-Navy Instrumentation Program (ANIP). Another Warren product was Glenn Bryan, who became the first director of the Electronics Personnel Research Group at the University of Southern California in 1952 and went on to head the Psychological Sciences Program at the Office of Naval Research for more than 20 years. Gerald Slocum, who joined Hughes Aircraft in 1953 and later earned his master's degree with Lyman at UCLA, would rise to be a Vice President of the company and eventually of General Motors.

In the east, Jerome Elkind, a student of J. C. R. Licklider at MIT, formed the original human factors engineering group at RCA in the late 1950s. Lennert Nordstrom, a student of Ross McFarland at Harvard, organized the human factors program at SAAB in Sweden in the late 1950s. Thomas Payne, Douglass Nicklas, Dora Dougherty, Fred Muckler, and Scott Hasler, all students of Alex Williams, brought aviation psychology to The Martin Company in the mid 1950s. And Charles Fenwick, a student of Ernest McCormick at Purdue, became the guru of display design at Collins Radio in the early 1960s. Managers in industry were gradually recognizing that aviation psychology was more than just common sense.

In Troubleshooting System Problems

In the late 1940s and early '50s, an unanticipated technological problem arose in the military community, one that obviously had critical human components. The new and complex electronics in both ground and airborne weapon systems were not being maintained in dependable operating condition. The weapon systems included radar and infrared guided missiles and airplanes with all-weather flight, navigation, target-detection, and weapon-delivery capabilities. These systems had grown so complex that more often than not they were inoperable and, even worse, unfixable by ordinary technicians. Few could get past the first step-"troubleshooting" the failures. It was becoming evident that something had to be done.

The first alert on the scale of the problem came from the Rand Corporation in the 1952 "Carhart report" which documented a host of people problems in the care of electronic equipment. The technicians needed better training, aiding by built-in test circuits, simulation facilities for practicing diagnoses, critical information for problem solving, and objective performance evaluation. To address these problems, the Office of Naval Research in 1952 contracted with the University of Southern California to establish an Electronics Personnel Research Group with the mission of focusing on the people aspects of maintaining the new systems coming on line.

The original EPRG, organized by Glenn Bryan, included Nicholas Bond, Joseph Rigney, Laddie LaPorte, William Grings, L. S. Hoffman, and S. A. Summers. The reports published by this group during the 1950s (e.g., Bryan, Bond, LaPorte, & Hoffman, 1956; and Bryan, Rigney, Bond, LaPorte, & Hoffman, 1959; Grings, Rigney, Bond, & Summers, 1953) had a major impact on the subsequent efforts of the military to cope with the problems of maintaining electronic systems of ever increasing complexity. The lessons learned from this early work were later set forth in Nick Bond's 1970 Human Factors article, "Some Persistent Myths about Electronic System Maintenance," that won the Jerome H. Ely Award.

In Consulting

In parallel with these developments, several small companies were organized to provide research, design, and consulting services to industry and the government. Among the earliest of these were Jack Dunlap's Dunlap and Associates, Bob Sleight's Applied Psychology Corporation, Harry Older's Institute of Human Relations, and John Flanagan's American Institutes for Research (Alluisi, 1994, p.16). Of these, the American Institutes for Research and Dunlap and Associates expanded into fields other than engineering psychology. Still, Dunlap and Associates warrants extra attention here because of its predominant association with engineering over a long period and the nature of its contributions.

In 1946, Captain Jack Dunlap separated from the US Navy, joined The Psychological Corporation in New York City, and immediately established a bio-mechanics division (Orlansky, 1994). Dunlap's initial recruits were Ralph C. Channell, John D. Coakley, Joseph Gallagher, Jesse Orlansky, and Martin A. Tolcott. Of this group, all but Gallagher, an accountant, left "The Psych Corp" in 1947 to form what would become Dunlap and Associates in 1950. In addition to its main offices and laboratories in Stamford, Connecticut (until 1963), the company had a sizeable branch office in Santa Monica headed by Joseph Wulfeck.

In the 1950s, Jesse Orlansky of "D&A" played a key role in the forward-looking Army-Navy Instrumentation Program (ANIP), working closely with Douglas Aircraft, the prime contractor, and with Walter Carel of General Electric, the originator of the "contact analog" concept (Carel, 1960, 1961). Two of the best minds in the D&A organization were those of Jerome H. Ely and Charles R. Kelley, but in quite different ways. A memorial plaque describes Ely, who died at age 39, as a "scholar, scientist, teacher and gentle man." Kelly, on the other hand, saw a perfect continuum between science and mysticism, but his seminal research on predictor displays and his book Manual and Automatic Control (1968) were highly creative contributions.

In Course Setting

During the 1950s, "blue ribbon" committees were frequently called on to study specific problem areas for both civilian and military governmental agencies, and aviation psychologists were often included on and sometimes headed such committees. Three of the most influential committee reports, each of which contained major contributions by Alex Williams, included:

Human Engineering for an Effective Air-Navigation and Traffic-Control System (Fitts et al., 1951a),
Human Factors in the Operation and Maintenance of All-Weather Interceptors (Licklider et al., 1953),
The USAF Human Factor Engineering Mission as Related to the Qualitative Superiority of Future Weapon Systems (Fitts et al., 1957).

The air-navigation and traffic-control study by the Fitts committee was of particular significance because, in addition to its sound content, it was a beautifully constructed piece that set the standard for such study reports. The group Fitts assembled included Alphonse Chapanis, Fred Frick, Wendell Garner, Jack Gebhard, Walter Grether, Richard Henneman, William Kappauf, Edwin Newman, and Alexander Williams. The study of all-weather interceptor operation and maintenance by J. C. R. "Lick" Licklider et al. (1953), though not as widely known, marked the recognition by the military and the aviation industry that engineering psychologists in the academic community had expertise applicable to equipment problems not available within the military at that time.
Not all of the reports of this genre were the products of large committees. Others written in academia, usually under military sponsorship, included:

Handbook of Human Engineering Data (1949), generally referred to as "The Tufts Handbook," produced at Tufts College under a program directed by Leonard Mead for the Navy's Special Devices Center and heavily contributed to by Dunlap and Associates, followed by:
Vision in Military Aviation by Joseph Wulfeck, Alexander Weisz, and Margaret Raben (1958) for the Wright Air Development Center. Both were widely used in the aerospace industry.
Some Considerations in Deciding About the Complexity of Flight Simulators, by Alex Williams and Marvin Adelson (1954) at the University of Illinois for the USAF Personnel and Training Research Center.
A Program of Human Engineering Research on the Design of Aircraft Instrument Displays and Controls, by Alex Williams, Marvin Adelson, and Malcolm Ritchie (1956) at the University of Illinois for the USAF Wright Air Development Center. (Adelson went on to form the first human factors group in the Ground Systems Division of Hughes Aircraft, and Ritchie formed his own research and consulting company in Dayton, Ohio.)
Perhaps the two most influential articles in the field during the 1950s were:
"Engineering Psychology and Equipment Design," a chapter by Paul Fitts (1951b) in the Handbook of Experimental Psychology edited by S. S. Stevens, the major source of inspiration for graduate students for years to come, and
"The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity to Process Information" in the Psychological Review by George A. Miller (1956), which encouraged quantification of cognitive activity and shifted the psychological application of information theory into high gear.

Historical Perspective


Taken as a whole, these key reports and articles-and the earlier research on which they were based-addressed not only pilot selection and training deficiencies and perceptual-motor problems encountered by aviators with poorly designed aircraft instrumentation but also flight operations, aircraft maintenance, and air traffic control. All of these problem areas have subsequently received serious experimental attention by engineering psychologists both in the United States and abroad. There are now some established principles for the design, organization, maintenance, and operation of aviation systems that have application beyond the immediate settings of the individual experiments on which they are based.

The early educators in the field-Alex Williams, Al Chapanis, Paul Fitts, Ross McFarland, Len Mead, Lick Licklider, Neil Warren, John Lyman, Jack Adams, George Briggs, and Ernest McCormick-had in common a recognition of the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to aviation problems, and their students were so trained. The early giants, on whose shoulders we walk, could only be delighted by the extent to which all researchers and practitioners now have access to once unimagined information and technology to support creative designs based on sound behavioral engineering principles.



In preparing this historical review, I have drawn on articles by Earl Alluisi (1994), Paul Fitts (1947), and Jefferson Koonce (1984); on the short biographies of George Briggs, Jack Dunlap, Paul Fitts, and Jerome Ely by Bill Howell, Jesse Orlansky, Dick Pew, and Marty Tolcott in the monograph titled Division 21 Members Who Made Distinguished Contributions to Engineering Psychology, edited by Henry Taylor and published in 1994 by the American Psychological Association; and on Mac Parsons' book Man-Machine System Experiments. I also received valuable personal communications about "Afpatrick" from Jack Adams and about the USC Electronics Personnel Research Group and the strange planes flying low over the Fox Hills Golf Course from Nick Bond.

© Copyright 1995