Dissociation Between Mental Workload, Performance, and Task Awareness in Pilots of High Performance Aircraft

Heikki Mansikka, Kai Virtanen, Don Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this study was to demonstrate how the inclusion of a tactical task goal awareness measure complemented mental workload and performance measures in a simulated air combat mission. It was hypothesized that the evaluation of the tactical task goal awareness could provide additional information concerning the cognitive demands a pilot is exposed to during a complex air combat task. A test setting was developed to test this hypothesis in a virtual flight training device. To highlight the impact of task complexity, high performance aircraft pilots’ heart rate (HR), interbeat-interval (IBI), and performance in two simple flying tasks were first compared. Then, a similar comparison, complemented with the tactical task goal awareness measure, was made with two complex flying tasks. It was found that when the pilot's awareness of the tactical goals was low, a combination of low performance and low mental workload occurred. It was concluded that when the pilots’ performance is evaluated on a complex air combat task, the awareness of the tactical goals, performance, and mental workload should be studied together as the pilot's awareness can explain some of HR/IBI responses that could be otherwise misinterpreted. More generally, mental workload, performance, and task goal awareness should all be considered when the operator's performance in any complex human–machine system is assessed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Aerospace simulation
  • air combat
  • Aircraft
  • Atmospheric modeling
  • Heart rate
  • Instruments
  • mental workload (MWL)
  • Military aircraft
  • system performance
  • Task analysis
  • task goal awareness
  • Training


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