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Meet: Ray Oyung

Research Coordinator for the Fatigue Countermeasures Program
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

photo of ray oyung
My Journals
Who I Am
I am a research coordinator for the Fatigue Countermeasures Program. Our program started about 15 years ago to determine the extent of fatigue, sleep loss and circadian disruption in flight operations, determine the impact of these factors on flight crew performance, and develop and evaluate countermeasures to mitigate the adverse effects of these factors and maximize flight crew performance and alertness.

In addition to working with the aviation industry, we work with many different organizations and industries who have similar challenges in their working environments including railroad engineers, marine pilots, doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, nuclear powerplant workers, and astronauts. Each of these environments has unique challenges, but there is a common denominator. In each case, human physiology dictates certain requirements for survival like eating, breathing, and sleeping. In addition to coordinating the program's research efforts, I'm also a certificated flight instructor and teach primary flight training ground school classes.

As part of a research team, I coordinate and collect data for field studies that our scientists design to investigate a particular aspect of fatigue and what role it plays in that environment. For example, long international flights are planned with two sets of pilots: a captain and first officer will sit on the flight deck and fly the first half of the flight, and they will be relieved for the second half by a second crew. This flight crew configuration is called augmentation. When one set of crew members is flying, the other set can read, eat, or sleep just like the passengers who ride in the cabin. One big difference when the pilots sleep is that they have on-board crew rest facilities. These facilities are set up just like small bunkbeds mounted against the side of the cabin just behind the flight deck.

I was part of a team that flew to Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand to study how much sleep pilots got while on long international flights, and how well they slept. The other team members and I monitored the pilots during the flight, gave them performance tests, and measured their brainwaves. By examining brainwaves, we can assess the quantity and quality of the pilots' sleep. To measure brainwaves, we used electroencephalography (EEG). Wires with disc-shaped electrodes were placed on specific locations of the head and connected to a device about the size of a portable CD player which would measure the brainwave activity and store the data on high quality cassette tapes. Then, after the flight, we downloaded the data into a computer for more in-depth analysis.

My Career Journey The path to this career was not a straight one. I was on the road to thinking a career in pharmacy was for me. In middle school and high school, I enjoyed the science courses I attended. My father was a pharmacist in the Air Force and my mother encouraged me toward pharmacy studies. In my senior year in high school, I took an aeronautics course and got hooked on the idea of flying. The class took a field trip to the San Carlos Airport and our teacher gave us a hands-on experience of how the different parts of an airplane work. We each had a chance to climb inside and see how the controls moved the various control surfaces on the wings and the tail of the airplane. We also took a tour of the control tower where the air traffic controllers monitor and manage all of the airplanes in their area to make sure no one runs into anyone else.

The Early Years Being born and raised in a conservative Chinese household, flying was considered too dangerous and unstable. "Be a pharmacist instead. It pays well and is a safe job that keeps you on the ground." These are some of the obstacles I needed to work through. After several conversations at the "negotiation table" with my parents, a compromise was finally achieved. I worked at a pharmacy during my last year in high school and first year in college. Since I thought a pharmacy career might be for me, why not try it out and see what it's actually like. Who knows. I might actually like it. But what I found was that the life of a pharmacist may suit some people, but not me. The following year after finishing my general education courses in college, I transferred to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where I learned in great detail why airplanes fly and how to fly them. The experience I gained at Embry-Riddle is invaluable to the career I am leading today.

I strive for a balance in life. My job can be hectic, planning trips with pilots on their long flights, collecting data and ensuring it stays intact, and supporting data analysis after returning to the lab, I try (and usually succeed) in keeping the job fun. Although I need to stay awake for the eleven- to twenty-hour flights during these field studies, I relish the experience of sitting in the jumpseat and seeing firsthand the professionalism, organization, and crew communication that occurs to get the airplane from departure to destination safely. In addition, as part of a team, I'm not alone. We look out for each other to make sure we're not overloaded with tasks and assist when help is needed. Our teamwork isn't limited to the airplane either. The people back in the lab are "with us" the entire trip offering 24-hour support for unforeseen events that may occur.

If I were to time warp back to my high school days, I would follow the same path that I have chosen. With so many things that the world has to offer in a career, it's hard to really know how to choose from the different options. Think about what you are interested in and find a way to apply those interests to a work experience. Tap into all available resources at school and at home. Volunteer work, a summer job, or talking to your friend's parents about what their job is like may give you some insight into what you want to do. Just remember, whatever you hear or read, you'll never know what it's really like until you try it out for yourself. Feel good about yourself, who you are, and what dreams you want to fulfill in life.

Advice
For myself, I enjoy what I am doing and wish to pursue my goals of contributing to air transportation safety. It is also important to me to continue learning. Being a pilot, I have a strong interest in maintaining a safe flying environment. By teaching others how to fly safely, I can pass along skills and knowledge that I have acquired. I don't know everything. Being curious means that I always have more questions to seek answers to. I do know that my academic foundation has been crucial to my current work and flying. Flight consists of many different aspects of science. Concepts of math, physics, meteorology, and physiology are all integral to a strong foundation. Why does an airplane fly? Why do the ears pop when descending to the destination airport? Why does the airplane shake in the air? What is turbulence? Why am I tired when I get off the airplane after a long flight? Why is it harder to get up in the morning when it's dark outside? Never be afraid to ask questions.

photo descripion at right An early study in a Boeing 747-200 on a flight over the pacific ocean with pilots hooked up for EEG data collection. The first officer is taking a performance reaction time test
photo descripion at right Subject in the bunk sleep study entering data into the AIRLOG and hooked up with electrodes for EEG data collection.
photo descripion at right Corporate aviation has similar challenges to the commercial airlines. Corporate jets are designed and built to fly faster and just as far as many of the commercial airliners. This is a picture of the Gulfstream IV in Burbank, CA while we were enroute to Melbourne, Australia.
photo descripion at right The group shot is with the crewmembers.
photo descripion at right This shot is a flight from Melbourne to Australia
photo descripion at right A day trip to Mendocino with some friends.

photo descripion at right An instruction flight along the coast and ending with a tour of San Francisco aerial view of San Francisco

 
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