Equipment meant to save pilots leading to disorientation, crashes: Report

WION Web Team Washington, United States Sep 18, 2020, 03.15 PM(IST)

A US military pilot sitting in the cockpit of F-35 fighter jet preparing for training at Hill Force Base Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

Recent findings showed that even weak radio frequency fields and ‘earth strength’ magnetic fields have measurable, reproducible effects on human brainwaves and unconscious behavior in a controlled environment.

The Pentagon’s research and development arm is investigating whether the very equipment meant to save military pilots' lives on the battlefield is causing them to become disoriented and crash.

According to a report published in the Forbes magazine, the problem could be making pilots so disoriented that they crash their planes, fears DARPA, the Pentagon’s pet research agency.

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''Current cockpits are flooded with Radio Frequency (RF) noise from on-board emissions, communication links, and navigation electronics, including strong electromagnetic (em) fields from audio headsets and helmet tracking technologies,” warns a new DARPA research project.

“Pilots often report minor cognitive performance challenges during flight, and from 1993 to 2013, spatial disorientation in us air force pilots accounted for 72 class a mishaps, 101 deaths, and 65 aircraft lost.”

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The US military fears that some of these crashes may have been caused by electromagnetic fields. But currently, there is no way to be sure.

“It has been hypothesised that the cockpit radio frequency and electromagnetic fields may influence cognitive performance including task saturation, misprioritisation, complacency and spatial disorientation,” DARPA notes.

“However, electromagnetic fields and radio waves in cockpits are not currently monitored, little effort has been made to shield pilots from these fields, and the potential impacts of these fields on cognition have not been assessed.”

DARPA’s impact of cockpit electro-magnetics on aircrew neurology (iceman) is a two-year project that aims to determine whether radio waves and magnetic fields are harming pilots.

Previous DARPA research has found that “human brains sense magnetic fields, like those used by animals for navigation, and that this process is ‘jammed’ (disrupted) by radio waves (rf), impacting brainwaves and behavior.

Furthermore, recent findings were the first to show that even weak radio frequency fields and ‘earth strength’ magnetic fields have measurable, reproducible effects on human brainwaves and unconscious behavior in a controlled environment.”

To give an idea of just powerful cockpit electronics have become, DARPA notes that “current tactical audio headsets project magnetic fields up to 10 times earth strength.”

Phase I of iceman will determine how much radio frequency and electromagnetic field noise are present in cockpits. Phase II will examine the effects of radio frequency and electromagnetic noise on the human body. Researchers will be asked to design sensors to measure these effects, and to find ways to mitigate them.

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