Meet Jeannie Davison
Research Associate, Systems Safety
Who I am
We use many methods to study flight crews. We may write up surveys to ask them what difficulties they encounter when flying or how they would solve specific problems. We may also use personal computers to present pilots with information and ask them to give us their opinions or to help us solve some problem. Then we may use the responses from those studies to design a simulator study to see how pilots solve problems, how they communicate, and how they work together as a team in a real flight situation. We have access to two full-motion flight simulators at Ames Research Center for use in our studies. These are computer driven simulators of real aircraft cockpits. They are so realistic that airlines use them to train pilots for flying real aircraft.
One part of my job involves gathering background information to design studies. I do this by reading aircraft accident reports to see what went wrong. I also use the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System ( http://olias.arc.nasa.gov/asrs/ ) to see what kind of problems pilots are reporting. Once we have decided on a topic to study, we then design scenarios to present to pilots, either in survey questionnaires or on a computer. We work together as a team to design our scenarios and always bring in some professional airline pilots to help us. This ensures that we use realistic events in our studies.
Once we have designed our study and generated scenarios, we bring in airline pilots to participate in our study. This may involve having them work for a few hours on a computer, fill out questionnaires, or fly in our simulator. One of the studies I participated in required flight crews to make 5 flights in our simulator in one day. I was one of the researchers who took turns sitting in the simulator during the flights to observe and take notes. Once we have collected their data, we use statistics (a special form of mathematical formulas) to analyze the data and see what we found.
Hopefully we will discover some results that help us identify factors that can be changed to help improve aviation safety. We may also include air traffic controllers and airline flight dispatchers in our studies, depending on what aspects of aviation safety we are interested in for a particular project.
My career path
Sadly, a friend of mine was killed while flying his own aircraft, and that got me interested in how it's determined what caused an accident. I learned about the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), how they investigate accidents, and then make recommendations to improve safety. This led me to design my college education to prepare me for a career in aviation safety. I was fortunate to attend a school that allowed you to design your own degree. With the advice of a couple of NTSB investigators and a NASA research scientist, I combined classes from the professional pilot, aviation management, and business administration departments to create an aviation safety degree. I had the opportunity to work as an intern at one of the biggest airlines in the US for a summer, which included riding in the cockpit during a number of flights and visiting an aircraft manufacturing facility. What a great way to learn more about how an airline operates. In addition, I earned a dual major in psychology, so that I would be prepared for the research end of aviation safety. After completing this degree, I came to Ames Research Center to work in aviation research while earning a Master's degree in Experimental Psychology.
What I like most about my career
What factors from my childhood may have prepared
me for this career
How to prepare for a career like mine
NASA has an internship program for high school students that anyone interested in a career in aviation safety or research should consider. It's called the Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program (SHARP). This summer I will be mentoring a young man from Fremont for the second summer in a row. There are lots of opportunities to work with NASA people in different departments. You can find information about the program on the NASA educational resources web site at: http://ehb2.gsfc.nasa.gov/edcats/1999/nep/programs/ . Select the K-12 option and page down to the SHARP program. I'm sure there are lots of other programs available through NASA, this is just the one I'm familiar with.
There are also organized programs you can participate in to gain more knowledge in the aerospace sciences, such as the Young Eagles program, in which pilots take kids flying to encourage an interest in aviation, or the Civil Air Patrol. I would also encourage taking as many science and math classes as you can. A career in aviation safety requires an understanding of aerodynamics and the principles of flight, and researchers use statistical analyses to examine the data from their experiments. You don't have to be a pilot to work in aviation research, but it helps. And it's lots of fun!
How do I see my self in the future
A little personal info
I am also a private pilot, although I haven't been able to fly much in a couple of years - graduate school is very expensive! I hope to get back into flying after I finish my degree. It's a great way to explore the area around your home. I also used to skydive. That's also a lot of fun and a great way to really learn about aerodynamics. If you can fly your body in free flight, you should definitely be able to fly an airplane! The earth looks really beautiful from 2 miles up when you've just stepped out of an airplane.