Human factors engineering makes for better Army equipment, outcomes

By Christy BarnettFebruary 28, 2022

Human Factors Engineering at Work at RTC
Shauna Legan, a Human Factors Engineer (HFE) at the U.S. Army Redstone Test Center takes part in HFE testing at the Aviation Flight Test Directorate. HFE applies information about human behavior, abilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design of tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for productive, safe, comfortable, and effective human use. (Photo Credit: Collin Magonigal, RTC Photographer) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — How do you ensure Soldiers of different heights and body types can both reach all the needed instruments in a cockpit to safely fly a helicopter? That’s where human factors engineering, or HFE, comes into play.

HFE applies information about human behavior, abilities, limitations and other variables to the design of tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs and environments for productive, safe, comfortable and effective human use. Essentially, HFE is intended to make life easier.

HFE has been utilized in Army aviation test and evaluation for decades. At the U.S. Army Redstone Test Center’s Aviation Flight Test Directorate, HFE appears in most test and evaluation processes. Including HFE into early phases of design and testing, especially tests of operator workload can help reduce issues or problems down the road.

Shauna Legan is an engineering psychologist at AFTD. Her two-person team primarily supports aviation testing, but also provides HFE support to other directorates at RTC as needed.

“My background is engineering psychology and my master’s degree is industrial/organizational psychology." said Legan. "I took a human factors engineering course as an undergraduate and I was hooked. I immediately switched majors from biology to psychology and never looked back. Throughout graduate school, I worked with the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory in Pensacola, Florida, which is where I developed the aviation focus,” explained Legan.

“The most fascinating part of HFE testing is that we address operator perceptions," explains Legan. "Not only do we test the functional characteristics of test articles, but how the operator views, interprets, and interacts with the test articles. The most rewarding testing comes from overall usability assessments. Does the respective test article improve the operator’s ability to meet the mission objectives by being easier? Does it decrease workload or provide key information at the right time by enhancing situational awareness? ... Essentially, we’re looking out in the best interest of the human in the human-machine interface.”

Because of the nature of HFE, it’s not unusual for Legan to size up new teammates at RTC; particularly those of varying heights who might be recruited for a specific mission. Occasionally — due to her small stature — Legan herself has to become part of the test, ensuring people of a certain size are able to perform tasks safely and effectively. Her passion for HFE is well-known at AFTD.

“AFTD’s HFE team does a fantastic job testing the latest technology in aviation systems," explains Justin Powell, deputy commander for AFTD. Their focus on the human machine interface is critical to ensuring Soldiers get the best possible equipment and that they are using it in the safest manner. While new technology may provide enhanced aircraft capability, Shauna and her team ensure that the pilot’s mental workload remains at a manageable level. Otherwise, use of the new capability could interfere with other critical flight tasks, resulting in an accident.”