Applying the Abstraction Hierarchy to the Aircraft Manual Control Task

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



One of the most difficult aspects of manually controlled flight is the coupling between the control over the aircraft speed and altitude. These states can not be changed independent of each other through the aircraft control devices, the elevator and the throttle. Rather, to effectively change an aircraft’s speed and altitude, the controls have to be coordinated. The mediating mechanism that underlies the coordination of the controls is the management of the aircraft’s energy state. This paper shows that the Abstraction Hierarchy framework can be effectively used to gain more insight into the underlying structure of the aircraft energy management problem. The derived AH representation is based on the analysis of the energy constraints on the control task and the pilot’s way of dealing with these constraints. It reveals the levels of abstraction that are necessary to link the aircraft’s physical controls to the speed and altitude goals and also how the aircraft energy is a critical mediating state of the control problem.


Presented at the 12th International Symposium on Aviation Psychology, Dayton, OH, April 14-17, 2003.