Meet: Ray Oyung
Research Coordinator for the Fatigue Countermeasures Program
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
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
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
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
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.
|| 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
||Subject in the bunk sleep study entering data into the AIRLOG and
hooked up with electrodes for EEG data collection.
||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.
|| The group shot is with the crewmembers.
||This shot is a flight from Melbourne to Australia
||A day trip to Mendocino with some friends.
||An instruction flight along the coast and ending with a tour of