Study: What distinguishes talented drone pilots?

Participants in a training program for drone pilots in the Norwegian police force were given cognitive tests from the VTS and the results were compared with their performance during a flight simulation.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) is no longer just a topic of discussion, but is actually on the rise in both the civilian and military sectors. Military use in particular is increasing, but is forcing a conscious rethink in the selection and training of drone pilots. Several tests from the Vienna Test System are now being used by the Norwegian Police University College in order to systematically identify these new requirements.

The changing expectations for pilots are perhaps not obvious, but easily understandable. The lack of sources of information such as sensory perceptions (vibrations, pressure) or real-time knowledge about the weather and the environment have led to a shift in the requirements profile. Physical prerequisites are becoming less important, while the cognitive abilities required are increasingly critical.

A total of 129 persons (15 female and 114 male police), of whom 52 had no experience whatsoever in operating drones, took part in the present validation study. The others had already gained varying levels of experience. Their ages ranged from 25 to 45 years. The data was anonymized and the participants were given a guarantee that the results from the study would not influence their further training and that the data would not be forwarded to their superiors.

The customer-specific test battery includes spatial orientation (A3DW), cognitive abilities (INT, logical reasoning), selective attention (TACO), sustained attention (VIGIL) and visual short-term memory (VISGED).
In addition, the participants completed various simulated drone flights. All the persons undergoing testing were able to familiarize themselves with the use of the drones in a brief practice session, after which flights encompassing various tasks were carried out. The pilots’ performance was evaluated based on skill (time required to complete the task) and proficiency (expert assessment of steering/control performance, stress during the flight, drone orientation and progress throughout the course of the different tasks).

The results of the study support the use of cognitive tests in selecting (drone) pilots. The authors discussed very clearly the extent to which the test results can predict performance in the flight tests. In particular, spatial orientation and selective attention appear to be good predictors in this context.
Looking ahead, the authors recommend integrating cognitive testing earlier in the selection process and screening individuals who are not yet trained so that individual potential can be assessed prior to training.

Johnsen, B. H., Nilsen, A. A., Hystad, S. W., Grytting, E., Ronge, J. L., Rostad, S., Öhman, P. H. & Overland, A. J. (2023): Selection of Norwegian police drone operators:an evaluation of selected cognitive tests from “The Vienna Test System”. Police Practice and Research,
DOI: 10.1080/15614263.2023.2179052

Here you’ll find more information about the tests used: A3DWINTTACOVIGIL and VISGED,
as well as further information on digital testing for pilots using the Vienna Test System.



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