The U.S. Air Force implemented new training for aviation psychologists that aims to increase the psychologists’ knowledge of aviation training and practices. One of the many aspects of Air Force Aviation Psychology is focused on resiliency and readiness of its aircrews’ daily activities by addressing the human factors involved in safe and effective performance. Enhanced understanding of pilot training and the human performance demands on aircrew will facilitate improved ability for these psychologists to accomplish their mission.

The service conducted the 14-day flight training for the Aviation Psychology Introductory Course at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. This course is the first time the Air Force has given direct aviation training to psychologists. Aviation psychologists total strength is now at seven, with four more in the pipeline.

“The Aviation Psychology Program’s first APIC class brings to fruition a concept long in development in the USAF, to have psychologists trained to look at not only the human factor of ‘why’ do aviation mishaps occur, but what aircrew-specific needs could be fulfilled by trained psychologists,” said Maj. Nancy DeLaney, recent Aviation Psychology human factors and human performance expert at the Air Force Safety Center. “The typical psychologist doesn’t ‘speak’ aviation, so this course is meant to provide an orientation to that culture as well as practical understanding of the human performance demands and skills utilized in aviation.”

Air Force Aviation Psychology applies traditional psychology principles, methods, and techniques to individual and group issues within the flying community. It expands upon the standard practice of military psychology to include components of community and occupational health psychology.

The Aviation Psychology program provides an opportunity for credentialed psychologists to be immersed in the flying community to better understand and mitigate the behavioral, emotional, and physical strain aircrew experience in the performance of their duties. They may be involved in counseling or wellness services, development or optimization of training programs, flying assessments or even a member of a mishap investigation board working to explain the human factors that contributed to an accident.

“In addition to psychological knowledge, you want an Aviation Psychologist to have an in-depth understanding of the aviation field, and to be trained in the Air Force Medical Standards to ensure anything medical or mental health-related has an expert looking at the aeromedical risk disposition,” DeLaney said. “However, I think the most essential aspect of Aviation Psychology is optimization of aircrew performance.”

DeLaney also outlined the need for involvement in the aircrew training process, understanding the challenges in the training pipeline, and looking at what human factors impact each aspect of the aircrew and the specific aircraft. This includes everything from design and assessment to operational task improvement.

Dr. Timothy Strongin, a retired colonel and a pioneer Air Force Aviation Psychologist, was on hand to provide his thoughts to the first APIC class going through the flight training.

“The more aware an individual is of their own condition, the condition of their friends and its interaction with the environment, the better decisions they can make to minimize risks,” Strongin said. “We can identify opportunities to reduce risk while enhancing performance.”