New study promotes energy-centered approach to improve safety

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Boosting flight training that can reduce fatal aircraft accidents and conserve fuel is the goal of a new study published by Jacksonville University Davis Aviation Center Director Dr. Juan Merkt.

“Flight Energy Management Training: Promoting Safety and Efficiency” appears in the Journal of Aviation Technology and Engineering (JATE). Published by Purdue University Press, JATE is a refereed, open-access journal bridging aviation technology, engineering and human factors.

Juan MerktMerkt’s study identifies a gap in civilian pilot training and leads the way in proposing solutions. According to previous studies, poor flight energy management is a significant contributing factor in fatal aircraft accidents worldwide and is also responsible for wasted fuel.

“An airplane is the quintessential energy system — continuously transforming, transferring, distributing, storing, and exchanging various forms of energy as it moves through the air,” said Merkt. “Yet, energy system principles associated with motion control and performance, though well-tried and proven in other disciplines, have not found their way into flight education. As a result, energy management skills, founded on those basic principles, are not being taught or evaluated adequately in civilian flight training.”

The study is designed to raise awareness of the need for basic energy training, lay the groundwork for key energy principles that aviation educators can incorporate into their teaching, and propose guidelines for effective design of energy management training programs for pilots, added Merkt.

To make the case, the study uses energy management to link safety and efficiency — where safety is concerned with controlling the airplane’s altitude (potential energy) and airspeed (kinetic energy), and efficiency with managing its fuel energy.

It then synthesizes energy principles across multiple disciplines and reveals how such principles, once simplified, become powerful instructional tools for exploring the role of the flight controls and the airplane’s performance envelope.

Finally, combining ideas from physics, engineering, air combat tactics, and biology, the study suggests that an integrated, energy-centered, top-down training approach will lead to an improved mental model of how the airplane works, thus enhancing energy management and decision-making skills for safe and efficient flight operations.

What’s next? Merkt is working on a model energy management curriculum, made up of academic and practical training, to be tested at JU and discussed in a future study.

“I have already taught some of the academic components in a special topic course at JU; the first one of this nature in the world,” said Merkt. “The challenge is in developing the practical training, given the limitations of typical civilian training aircraft (and simulators) as well as the lack of true energy state/rate indicators in cockpit displays. However, the effort is worth pursuing since an energy-centered approach may prove to be an effective tool for enhancing aviation safety and efficiency.”

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  1. Ed Watson says

    It would be helpful to have a bit more of the specifics on this, like how a training syllabus could be changed, how the average Joe could use EM, and how some s/w could be written to feed a cockpit display.

  2. says

    As an energy engineer, I am surprised that apparently the importance of energy principles and conservation is not being emphasized in aviation training schools. This is especially surprising given that, unlike most other energy conservation applications, in the case of flying it can literally save lives!

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