Date of Award

Spring 2013

Access Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Human Factors & Systems


Human Factors and Systems

Committee Chair

Jason Kring, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Shawn Doherty, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Nickolas Macchiarella, Ph.D.


Ground reference maneuvers are an important component of pilot training. In order to perform these maneuvers, pilots rely on cues from the environment to determine where their aircraft is in relation to objects on the ground. This process requires a high degree of spatial cognition, which refers to the cognitive processes used to orient oneself in space. Two factors that can influence spatial cognition in the context of aviation ground reference maneuvers are the availability of spatial cues and the biological sex of the pilot. Research suggests spatial cues aid in the identification of potentially dangerous objects. In the context of aviation, environments with a higher number of spatial cues make likewise air performance in ground reference maneuvers. With regard to spatial cognition and sex difference, evidence suggests men exhibit some advantages over women in regard to performance on tasks that require spatial cognition.

The present study examined the effects of sex and spatial cue level on the flight performance of pilots conducting simulated ground reference maneuvers. Twenty pilots flew two maneuvers in a flight simulator to determine the effects of sex and spatial cue level (low vs. high) on performance as measured by examining airspeed, altitude, and heading. Results indicated a significant main effect for spatial cue level, with pilots in the high-spatial cue condition performing better with regard to heading than pilots in the low-spatial cue condition. In contrast, no significant main effect of sex was found with men and women pilots performing approximately the same during ground reference maneuvers.