how diet affects pilot performance
What pilots eat and how it affects their performance is the subject
of unique, collaborative research being conducted by one of the
dual-career faculty couples at the University of North Dakota.
The researchers are Paul Lindseth, associate dean for academics
at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, and Glenda
Lindseth, professor and director of research for the College of
Paul, a former pilot and instructor in the U.S. Air Force, is
currently a flight instructor at UND. He long has been concerned
about the performance level of students as it relates to nutrition
habits. Glenda, a registered dietitian and registered nurse, has
a special interest in the effects of eating patterns on performance.
The two have worked together in a series of four earlier studies
on the subject.
The four-year, $621,310 project is funded by the U.S. Army Biomedical
The Lindseths say their research could make significant contributions
to understanding effects of diet on cognition and performance,
thereby helping decrease the number of human factor errors related
to diet, nutrition and health.
The study is designed to determine cognition and flight performance
scores of pilots receiving a non-manipulated control diet, high-protein
diet, high-fat diet, or carbohydrate diet. Researchers analyze
for differences in flight performance and cognition scores among
groups of pilots on the four diets.
Previous studies have found that both passengers and pilots who
ate high-protein or dairy products immediately before flying tended
to feel worse. A less conclusive finding is that salty foods figure
into air sickness. And there is an indication that higher-carbohydrate
foods, such as bread and pasta, along with fruit, are preferable
Paul Lindseth says airsickness can affect 25 to 30 percent of
pilots. He says flying has been around 100 years, but only in
the past 25 years has there been a focus on the human element.
Yet, eighty percent of accidents result from human error.
Consultants and collaborators in the study are Richard Jensen,
director of the Aviation Psychology Laboratory at Ohio State University;
Warren Jensen, director of aeromedical research at the Odegard
School of Aerospace Sciences at UND; Thomas Petros, professor
of psychology at UND; and Gladys Block, professor of public health
nutrition at the University of California-Berkeley.
Also involved are undergraduate research assistants from the
UND Honors Program and highly talented high school students funded
by North Dakota EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive
UND: A leader in research as well as flight
As the operator of the one of the largest and most prestigious
university-level programs in aviation, the John D. Odegard School
of Aerospace Sciences is a natural place to conduct research on
pilot performance, says its dean, Bruce Smith.
In recognition of these capabilities, the Federal Aviation Administration
has designated the School as one of the nation’s Air Transportation
Centers of Excellence for General Aviation.
Affiliated with the School is the UND Aerospace Foundation, which
provides a vehicle for developing partnerships with external entities,
including private industry and foreign governments. Smith said
the Aerospace Foundation first became known for its development
of new training methodologies for airline pilots, but it has broadened
its research agenda over the years.