Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Aviation Systems

Major Professor

Richard Ranaudo

Committee Members

Stephen Corda, John Muratore


The visual workload of general aviation pilots operating alone in adverse conditions is often high. Airframe-referenced 3D audio systems may improve safety and performance by transferring a portion of this workload to the audio modality. These systems use the aircraft’s axes as a reference to present audio directional cues to the pilot via a headset.

This experiment compared the technical performance, workload, and situational awareness of pilots as they performed instrument flight procedures with and without an airframe-referenced 3D audio system. Five pilot participants flew six tasks of each audio condition in a Piper Navajo aircraft modified with a 3D audio system.

With the 3D audio system, the pilots showed slightly better technical performance and lower workload, as well as improved situational awareness. However, the improvements from 3D audio were not significant when expanded to the entire pilot population. The lack of statistical significance appeared to be the results of a small pilot sample and better than expected pilot performance in both audio conditions.

The most important results of the experiment were the modes of the responses to a situational awareness questionnaire consisting of 26 Likert-type questions. Pilots clearly indicated they preferred flying with the 3D system to flying without it, suggesting the airframe-referenced 3D audio system may have been beneficial in completing flight tasks. Further research should be performed to document the system’s impact on pilot performance, especially at higher levels of workload than were evaluated in this study.

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