Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Jennie Gallimore (Advisor)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The current research utilized configural displays within the domain of aviation to assess what design features of configural displays contribute to the formation of operator situation awareness (SA). Configural displays map system information relevant to operator goals onto geometric shapes called emergent features. An emergent feature is formed from the combination of individual line segments to produce a global feature more perceptually salient and recognized sooner than the individual parts themselves. Configural displays have been shown in previous research to provide better operator performance for integration tasks where multiple pieces of information must be considered at once, yet the design aspects of configural displays that impact the formation of operator SA have yet to be determined. The current research compared the design features of three aviation configural displays over four experiments to quantify what aspects of configural displays would impact operator SA. The research sought to determine whether the simple act of representing system information in configural displays using emergent features is sufficient for facilitating operator SA or do other design factors need to be considered? Operator SA was assessed using explicit and implicit measures of SA from operator task performance in addition to a subjective SA rating scale. The recognition of aircraft attitude (climb/dive flight angles) when briefly presented to pilots in Experiment 1 revealed significant performance differences for the Arc Segment Attitude Reference (ASAR) configural display which mapped aircraft attitude information onto a circular shape versus the traditional aircraft head-up display (HUD) ladder found in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) HUD and Dual-Articulated (DA) HUD. The current research in Experiment 1 provides evidence that configural displays such as the ASAR that utilize emergent features well mapped to fully relate the information needed for a task will facilitate pilot Level 1 SA (i.e., perception of information) for integration tasks. The performance results for the dynamic aircraft control task in Experiment 2 were inconclusive as performance differences between the three configural displays approached significance, but did not reach significance. Experiment 2 investigated design differences of configural displays impacting operator SA beyond perception, that is, once information extraction has taken place, how does the pilot utilize the information to build and develop Level 2 and Level 3 SA? Given the brief duration of the task from Experiment 2, it's recommended that the benefits of configural displays for higher-order SA be investigated in a more complex and extended task that would allow SA to be developed over time and possibly sampled more extensively than the task used in Experiment 2 that lasted from 1-2 seconds for the performance measures used. Experiments 3 and 4 compared operator SA for using the same three configural displays as used in Experiments 1 and 2 but for switching between attitude displays during task completion. The findings from Experiment 3 show that when using a configural display off-axis in a helmet-mounted display (HMD) that allows for aircraft attitude to be readily perceived and understood (i.e., the prevailing format from Experiment 1), the transition forward to the primary flight display (i.e., forward configural display) poses little impact on either pilot (expert) or flight test engineer (FTE, novice) ability to transition between the two displays and still control the aircraft. The results from Experiment 4 showed that experts and novices both choose to rely upon aircraft instruments for obtaining orientation cues and aircraft attitude state when using ...

Page Count


Department or Program

Ph.D. in Engineering

Year Degree Awarded


Included in

Engineering Commons