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 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.
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.