Does RF noise in the cockpit hurt the pilot's ability to think? Researchers want industry to find out

Aug. 24, 2020
ICEMAN seeks to determine if RF noise in the cockpit hurts pilot cognitive performance; quantify the effects; and find ways to solve the problem.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military aviation experts are asking for industry's help to determine if RF noise in combat aircraft cockpits may hurt the pilot's ability to think, reason, and remember, and if so, how to mitigate these effects.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., issued a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) solicitation last week for the Impact of Cockpit Electro-Magnetics on Aircrew Neurology (ICEMAN) project.

The objective is to determine if the cockpit environment has an influence on the cognitive performance and physiological sensor performance of air crews; quantify the effects; and demonstrate ways to solve the problem.

Today's combat aircraft cockpits are flooded with radio frequency (RF) noise from on-board emissions, communications links, and navigation electronics -- including strong electromagnetic fields from audio headsets and helmet tracking technologies, DARPA researchers explain.

Related: Shielding against electromagnetic and RF interference for safety and mission success

Pilots often report minor cognitive performance problems during flight. In fact, from 1993 to 2013 spatial disorientation in U.S. Air Force pilots accounted for 72 class A mishaps, 101 deaths, and 65 aircraft lost.

Some experts believe that cockpit RF and electromagnetic fields may cause problems like task saturation, misprioritization, complacency, and spatial disorientation. Despite this, electromagnetic fields and radio waves in cockpits are not monitored, and the influence of cockpit RF noise on cognition have not been assessed.

Research has shown that human brains sense magnetic fields like those used by animals for navigation, causing problems in the pilot's brain waves and behavior.

Related: RF and microwave equipment: tackling the interference problem

The DARPA ICEMAN project seeks to measure and manipulate the ambient electromagnetic field and RF noise in a typical cockpit; measure potential effects of these electromagnetic stimuli on brain activity, physiology, and behavioral responses, and physiological sensing systems; and demonstrate potential strategies to mitigate negative effects on aircrew neurology and sensor function.

The project's first phase will demonstrate ways to measure the electromagnetic fields and RF signals in combat aircraft cockpits, and their potential influences on aircrew neurology and physiological sensor performance.

The second phase will identify any influences of cockpit electromagnetic and RF conditions that hurt the pilot's cognitive function, and develop mitigation strategies that could involve electromagnetic and RF shielding and attenuation.

Related: Mitigating electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference

Results of the ICEMAN project could be of interest not only to the military, but also to commercial aircraft manufacturers, commercial airlines, and military aircraft designers, DARPA researchers say.

Companies interested should upload proposals to the Defense SBIR/STTR Innovation Portal (DSIP) no later than 5 Oct. 2020 at Email questions or concerns to [email protected].

More information is online at

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