Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Warren Jensen


Recent airline accidents point to a crew’s failure to make correct and timely decisions following a sudden and unusual event that startled the crew. This study sought to determine if targeted training could augment decision making during a startle event. Following a startle event cognitive function is impaired for a short duration of time (30-90 seconds). In aviation, critical decisions are often required to be made during this brief, but critical, time frame.

A total of 40 volunteer crews (80 individual pilots) were solicited from a global U.S. passenger airline. Crews were briefed that they would fly a profile in the simulator but were not made aware of what the profile would entail. The study participants were asked to complete a survey on their background and flying preferences. Every other crew received training on how to handle a startle event. The training consisted of a briefing and simulator practice. Crew members (subjects) were either presented a low altitude or high altitude scenario to fly in a full-flight simulator.

The maneuver scenarios were analyzed using a series of one-way ANOVAs, ttests and regression for the main effect of training on crew performance. The data indicated that the trained crews flew the maneuver profiles significantly better than the untrained crews and significantly better than the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) standards. Each scenario’s sub factors were analyzed using regression to examine for specific predictors of performance. The results indicate that in the case of the high altitude profile, problem diagnosis was a significant factor, in the low altitude profile, time management was also a significant factor. These predicators can be useful in further targeting training.

The study’s findings suggest that targeted training can help crews manage a startle event, leading to a potential reduction of inflight loss of control accidents. The training was broad and intended to cover an overall aircraft handling approach rather than being aircraft specific. Inclusion of this type of training by airlines has the potential to better aid crews in handling sudden and unusual events.