Pilot-Vehicle Interfaces

Russ Erb

Originally published August 1997

Our program was ably brought to us by Ed McCormick, who worked at the former B-2 CTF with Mike and Mike (Pelletier and Meyer). Ed's area of expertise is Pilot-Vehicle Interface, a fancy human factors term for things like instrument panel design. Many of us have groused about bad instrument panel design in some airplane or car that we have at one time occupied. We anxiously listened to find out how to avoid the same errors.

The aim of Pilot-Vehicle Interface is to build the machine to fit the human. For the major part of this century, airplanes were built with instruments and switches stuck wherever they would fit, then the aircrew were force-fit to the airplane by extensive training. Someone finally figured out that we could save a lot of training money and improve aircrew performance by designing the airplane to accommodate the limits of human performance and exploit the advantages of the human operator.

For the techies in the audience, Ed provided us with some fancy looking equations that if understood could help with instrument panel design. This is what I got out of it: Consider the concept of the "optical center" as the center of all the stuff you look at while flying. For most of us, this is not on the instrument panel but on the windshield somewhere. The gist of the equations was "Put the most-used instruments closest to the optical center."

Ed allowed that the standard T configuration of IFR instruments is a good arrangement, but not necessarily the best. No, he couldn't tell us what the "best" would be--it depends on the mission. At some point after that, the discussion degenerated into a free-for-all on the best color for night instrument panel lighting. No conclusions were reached, but we once again proved that opinions are like noses--everybody has one, and they smell.

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Revised -- 8 April 1998