Suborbital Pilot Training Assessment

There exists a great deal of information about pilot performance under high +Gz forces from extensive military high performance fighter jet aircraft and centrifuge studies. There are little data, however, on pilot performance in a high +Gx environment, particularly repetitive exposures. Although astronauts and cosmonauts experience increased +Gx forces during launch, they are not actively piloting the spacecraft during this time. Similarly, the +Gx acceleration in carrier launch operations is experienced in a “hands off” pilot control window. The situation will be quite different in commercial suborbital flights for companies such as XCOR and Virgin Galactic. In these vehicles the pilots will experience sustained high +Gx acceleration (often in combination with high +Gz acceleration) during the vertical portion of the flight and will need to actively pilot the vehicle during this phase of the launch into space. This is similar to X-15 operations where pilot control issues were thought to be associated with one fatal accident, lending credibility to the concern over pilot performance in such scenarios. Further, the addition of a microgravity period between high acceleration exposures adds the risk of a potentially significant “push-pull” effect, complicating the physiological response profile. Research is needed to evaluate pilot performance and physiological response, including their hemodynamic tolerance, their ability to manually reach and operate the controls, maintain visual focus on the instruments, and avoid sensory perception illusions that could cause disorientation, in order to better understand the impacts on performance during sustained +Gx and combined +Gx/Gz acceleration and to make sound recommendations regarding physiological and medical standards for pilot screening prior to suborbital spaceflight crew selection.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • Program Information: Center of Excellence, CoE


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Aviation Administration

    800 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC  United States  20591
  • Project Managers:

    Davidian, Ken

  • Performing Organizations:

    University of Texas Medical Branch

    301 University Boulevard
    Galveston, TX  United States  77555-0144
  • Principal Investigators:

    Vanderploeg, Jim

  • Start Date: 20140701
  • Expected Completion Date: 20150817
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01575529
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Department of Transportation
  • Contract Numbers: 10-C-CST-UTMB-29
  • Files: RIP, USDOT
  • Created Date: Sep 3 2015 11:14AM