Date of Award


Access Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Aeronautics


College of Aviation

Committee Chair

Jennifer Thropp, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Andrew R. Dattel, Ph.D.


Startle and surprise on the flight deck is a contributing factor in multiple aviation accidents that have been recognized by multiple aviation safety boards. This study identified the effects startle and surprise had on commercial pilots with single and multiengine ratings. Surprise is defined here as something unexpected (e.g., engine failure), while startle is the associated exaggerated effect of an unexpected condition (e.g., thunder sound). Forty pilots were tested in a basic aviation training device configured to a Cessna 172 (single-engine) and a Baron 58 (multi-engine). Each pilot flew the single- and multiengine aircraft in a scenario that induced an uninformed surprise emergency condition, uninformed surprise and startle emergency condition, and an informed emergency condition. During each condition, heart and respiration rate, flight performance, and subjective workload measures were collected. The startle and surprise condition showed the highest heart and respiration rates for both aircraft. However, there was no difference in either the heart or respiration rates between the two aircraft for the informed condition. The subjective measures of mental, physical, and temporal demands, effort, and frustration were higher for the twin-engine aircraft when compared to the single-engine aircraft for all conditions. Performance (subjective) was not different between the single- and multi-engine aircraft for the surprise condition only. Objective flight performance, which was evaluated as a) participants’ adherence to the engine failure checklist steps for single-engine aircraft; and b) altitude deviation for multi-engine aircraft, showed that pilots performed better in the informed emergency condition. Startle and surprise can be measured using heart and respiration rate as physiological markers, which can be used to evaluate if different flight simulator scenarios are startling, surprising, or neither. Potential applications of this study will help develop flight simulator scenarios for various unexpected conditions of different aircraft. Results of this study can potentially help pave the way for federal regulations that require training for startle and surprise.