Cockpit Electromagnetic Fields May Be Harming Pilots, The U.S. Military Fears

Cockpit Electromagnetic Fields May Be Harming Pilots, The U.S. Military Fears

Cockpit Electromagnetic Fields May Be Harming Pilots, The U.S. Military Fears

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OGDEN, UT – MARCH 15: A pilot sits in the cockpit of an F-35 fighter jet preparing for a training mission at Hill Air Force Base on March 15, 2017 in Ogden, Utah. Hill is the first Air Force base to get combat ready F-35’s. They currently have 17

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Are pilots being harmed by radio frequency and electromagnetic fields from all the high-powered electronics in their aircraft?

The problem could be making pilots so disoriented that they crash their planes, fears DARPA, the Pentagon’s pet research agency.

“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.”

The U.S. 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 hypothesized that the cockpit RF and EM fields may influence cognitive performance including task saturation, misprioritization, complacency and Spatial Disorientation,” DARPA notes. “However, EM 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’ (i.e., disrupted) by radio waves (RF), impacting brainwaves and behavior. Furthermore, recent findings were the first to show that even weak RF 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 RF and EM noise on the human body. Researchers will be asked to design sensors to measure these effects, and to find ways to mitigate them.

DARPA expressly states that this problem affects commercial as well as military pilots. “If this research and development effort reveals negative impacts of cockpit EM/RF environments on human cognitive function or physiological sensor performance, it is expected to generate interest from the commercial airline industry as well as other industries in which humans are exposed to similar EM/RF conditions,” the agency says.

In fact, the Pentagon expects scientists to explore this problem using commercial rather than military equipment. While the agency won’t offer researchers any government equipment for testing, it does recommend they “consider representative commercial aircraft (such as those with weather radars, typical avionics, and military-style helmets or headsets).”

There have long been fears that pilots are being exposed to harmful environmental hazards. Some are natural radiation effects, such as ultraviolet rays from the sun piercing cockpit windows. Some U.S. fighter pilots also believe that radiation from the powerful radars on their aircraft have also contributed to a surge in cancer cases among their ranks.

But what’s significant about DARPA’s new project is that the suspected culprit isn’t just high-powered radar anymore. Pilots of cutting-edge aircraft, such as the F-35 stealth fighter, are encased in an electronic cocoon of powerful sensors, audiovisual displays, and special high-tech helmets. And it’s not just U.S. pilots: European, Russia, Israeli and other pilots of advanced aircraft also use this technology – and faced potential exposure to hazardous radiation.

Equally significant is that the Pentagon is admitting a disturbing possibility: that cockpit radiation may be affecting the mental judgment of pilots so badly that it’s causing them to crash their aircraft.

 

This article was written by Michael Peck from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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