New Web Program Aims to Reduce Fatigue-related Aviation Accidents
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2009 A new Web-based program is helping military pilots and aircrews “FlyAwake,” thanks to the combined efforts of the District of Columbia Air National Guard’s 201st Airlift Squadron and the National Guard Bureau.
“We were noticing the number of fatigue-related mishaps were quite high, and we needed to do something about it,” said Air Force Capt. Lynn Lee. “So we took a look at what was out there, and the 201st Airlift Squadron's fatigue modeling program seemed to have the answer.”
Lee is a flight safety officer with the Air National Guard Safety Directorate at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The 201st Airlift Squadron based there provides short-notice worldwide air transportation for the executive branch, congressional members, Defense Department officials and high-ranking U.S. and foreign dignitaries.
In both military and commercial aviation, Lee said, pilots and other aircrew members are required to have specific rest periods prior to flying. This can be challenging for aircrew members who transit many time zones or attempt to sleep in less-than-restful environments.
Research has shown that as fatigue goes up, cognitive effectiveness goes down, and the risk of an accident increases exponentially. “We want to stop that before it even gets to the pilots,” she said. “So we’re backing it up to the mission planning stage.”
Air Force and Navy accident investigations have used fatigue modeling for some time to determine if fatigue was a factor, she noted. The new Web-based program gives squadron commanders and mission schedulers easy access and quick responses.
In 2007, a safety idea from the 201st Airlift Squadron's commander, Air Force Col. Gary Akins, led to creation of a proactive fatigue modeling program to allow identification and mitigation of high-risk fatigue areas prior to mission departure. Walter Reed Army Research Institute had developed a set of algorithms, Lee said, which are extremely accurate in predicting fatigue, given an individual’s sleep and work history.
To mitigate a projected fatigue risk, the 201st Airlift Squadron would add a crew member or shift take-off or landing times if possible, she added, and would design nap rotations to minimize fatigue at the critical events during the flight.
“The program was shown [to be] very successful at the 201st, … [and] we used it for about six months,” Lee said. “At that point, Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan, our previous Air National Guard chief of flight safety, spearheaded bringing it to the rest of the Guard.”
In 2008, the Defense Safety Oversight Council funded joint-service implementation of the program, under the name “FlyAwake.” Feedback on the test site from flight surgeons, physiologists, schedulers and pilots is being incorporated into the release next month of “FlyAwake 2.0.” The new version also will include a new intelligent sleep model based on crew surveys, technical studies and other data, Lee said.
A variation of FlyAwake, dubbed WorkAwake, also has the potential to help thousands of Defense Department shift workers, Lee said. This shift-work analyzer would provide commanders with actionable intelligence to help in designing schedules more effectively.
As much potential benefit as the FlyAwake program holds, there’s no push to make it mandatory, Lee said.
“Eventually, tools like this will become part of the safety culture of the flying community,” she said. “The first step is to get buy-in at all levels and demonstrate the program’s efficacy.
“Our feeling,” she continued, “ … is if we come up with a good product that helps the war fighter, it will get used.”