FAA Seeks AirVenture Pilot Volunteers For Cognitive Testing

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Pilots attending EAA AirVenture 2024 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, could offset some of their expenses by participating in a paid FAA research study. The agency is offering prepaid gift cards valued at between $300 and $500, depending on current medical privileges at the time of the study. Participants must have logged flight or simulator time within the previous six months.

This year, the FAA is looking for 160 pilots with Class III medical certificates who are at least 25 years old. Fourteen pilots with Class II or Class I certificates who are 60+ years old are also required.

The FAA Institutional Review Board-approved testing will take about four hours. It involves two computerized cognitive tests for working memory, attention, mental rotation and multitasking performance.

According to the FAA, “The purpose of this study is to obtain pilot normative data for these computerized tests. The FAA uses these tests to help recertify pilots for flying following a medical event [e.g., stroke, head injury, certain medication]. The results of this study will help ensure that aeromedical decision-making is based on the most current scientific data and will contribute to the safety of the national airspace system.” If interested, click here for more information and to schedule.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Given the financial incentives and the adventureous nature of the AirVenture audience, there is a reasonable chance of reaching the target number of volunteers. However, the intimidating aspects of the cognitive tests and the required time commitment could be potential barriers. Nonetheless, it is interesting. 🤔

    • Agreed.

      I have some concerns, however, regarding the premise of the testing: “The purpose of this study is to obtain pilot normative data for these computerized tests.” According to the FAA, there were about 807,000 licensed pilots in the US in 2023. Using 174 individuals to establish “normative data” for a group this large seems illegitimately small to me. Furthermore, using only 14 pilots in the age group most likely to have suffered a “medical event” is preposterous. “The results of this study will help ensure that aeromedical decision-making is based on the most current scientific data…” If this is the extent of the data the FAA will use in aeromedical decision-making, there’s nothing “scientific” about it.

      • Let me correct myself: They’re collecting data on a total of 960 pilots. That’s certainly better than 174,but even that is only 0.1% of licensed pilots. I’m not a statistician, but I would wonder if that is enough to extrapolate career-altering decisions to the entire pilot population.

        • It appears, based on the FAA’s solicitation for participants, that the 960 pilots will not be drawn randomly from the pilot population, which makes inferences from the sample unreliable.

  2. ….with the individual test results pdf ‘d over to the Chief Pilot’s Office at the legacy airline you are employed at…
    Just kidding, of course..
    But then again 4 hours of testing, plus probably 2 more additional hours for admin time IN, and admin time OUT, brief & debrief, as Raf says above, just about kills that entire day at Air Venture…

  3. The “test” is just a distractor, the real data is memory failure defined as a typical cheap pilot forgetting to ask for the $$ and judgement in trusting the FAA to honor its privacy act statement.

  4. I did this testing at SnF. It’s challenging.

    It is anonymous. At the end results can be reviewed. I started at 0800 and finished just before noon. It was done very professionally. Unfortunately there were only two other pilots in my session. They said they especially need people with class I and II medicals.

    I participated because I think it’s important to contribute to the FAA updating its database.

  5. Mixed emotions on this. Looks to be a well-intentioned effort: however, the FAA AeroMedical division in OKC is so backed up & short staffed, per AeroMedical professionals inside & outside the FAA, the average time to review flight physical issues referred by local AME’s is running EIGHT MONTHS. If this testing could put a dent in that backlog all the better, but how about putting some effort into the backlog first or at least in parallel ???

  6. I would like to see cognitive testing for those of us who are flying and instructing under LSA rules… I’m curious. I’m approaching 70 and although I still try to stay sharp by studying mathematics, computer programming, working puzzles, etc., I know I’m losing ground bit by bit when it comes to memory and cognitive skills. Things just don’t stick in my brain like they used to (i.e. read “A Mathematician’s Apology” by G. H. Hardy).

    Although the study isn’t necessarily for this purpose, I’m asking the question “When is it time to close the logbook?”

    • I think it comes down to performance. Increasing flight reviews to annual or even every 6 months would let an expert (flight instructor) judge whether or not you are safe.

      • My insurance company informed me today that all of the aviation insurance companies, including theirs, will now require that insured pilots over the age of 75 will need to have a Flight Review once per year and a medical, including Basic Med once per year. For my policy, my insurer specifically stated the insured pilot “May not operate the insured aircraft in flight unless they have passed a BasicMed physical examination given by an [sic] licensed physician. In addition, must have successfully completed a Flight Review within the past 12 moths preceding each flight. This Flight Review must be given b an appropriately rated instructor certificated by the FAA and be noted in the pilot’s logbook. The Flight Review may be taken in a cockpit systems simulator that is designed to simulate the same make and model as the insured aircraft if conducted by an FAA approved facility.” Pretty specific and not unreasonable in my opinion.

        • All these requirements will do is either drive more pilots out of flying, or they will just fly their own plane with no insurance at all. There is no FAR requiring insurance for most pt91 ops.

  7. Im 69 with a Second class medical, ATP and still actively fly. As soon as I saw the offer I applied but my demographic has been filled. A few years back I was offered a similar opportunity but all the slots at OSH were filled and dates later in the year didn’t work out for me.

  8. As a psychologist and pilot I am wondering why the FAA doesn’t just use the norms for the tests that are already in place? A normative group of “pilots” doesn’t make sense, when the test has already been normed and there are cut-offs already there for what is normal and what is not.

    Also, what is this going to be used for? Just because someone gets certain results on a test doesn’t mean they are not safe to fly. This feels like an attempt to understand ADHD and other diagnoses that affect attention and such. Lets just say that cognitive testing, or even a diagnosis of ADHD or some other thing doesn’t mean someone is unsafe.

    Hopefully I am wrong, but I am very curious about this study, their method, and what the results will be used for.

  9. Yeah, that’s a hard no from here too. One of the things I like best about Basic Med is that my family doctor, who has known me for years, will be the one who tells me it’s time to hang up the wings.

  10. As a highly tenured ATC employee, I would suggest never offering any medical information to the FAA that isnt required to report.

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