A Historical Overview of Human Factors in Aviation
Jefferson M. Koonce University of Central Florida
Human factors in aviation are involved with the study of the human's capabilities, limitations, and behaviors and the integration of that knowledge into the systems we design for them with the goals of enhancing safety, performance, and the general well-being of the operators of the systems ( Koonce, 1979).
The role of human factors in aviation has its roots in the earliest days of aviation. The pioneers of aviation had their concerns for the welfare of those who flew their aircraft (particularly themselves), and as the capabilities of the vehicles were expanded, the aircraft rapidly exceeded human capability of directly sensing and responding to the vehicle and the environment to effectively exert sufficient control to ensure the optimum outcome, safety of flight. The first flight of only 12 sec. in which Orville Wright flew 540 ft. was on Thursday, December 17, 1903. The fourth and final flight of that day was made by Wilbur for 59 sec. and traversed 825 ft!
The purposes of aviation were principally adventure and discovery. To see an airplane fly was indeed unique; to actually fly an airplane was a daring feat! The early pioneers did not take it lightly, for to do so meant flirting with death in these fragile unstable craft. Thus, the earliest aviation was restricted to relatively straight and level flight and fairly level turns. The flights were performed under visual conditions in places carefully selected for elevation, clear surroundings, and certain breeze advantages to get the craft into the air sooner and land at the slowest possible ground speed.
The greatest problems with early flight were the reliability of the propulsion system and the strength and stability of the airframe. Many accidents and some fatalities occurred because of the structural failure of an airplane component or the failure of the engine to continue to produce power.