July 18, 2013 - The FAA and the Cognitive Research Corporation have partnered to offer an unusual attraction at AirVenture this year: an hour-long, completely confidential, computer-administered test to measure cognitive function in GA pilots, where the highest-functioning pilots win prizes.
In the GA world, CogScreen-Aeromedical Edition (AE) is typically administered as part of a battery of tests required by the FAA to determine whether pilots who have sustained a head injury, stroke, or another medical condition that could impact the brain are safe to return to flying. The test compares the performance of the test taker to the data set generated by all previous test takers, and a medical judgment is derived from the comparison.
The problem with the system is that most previous test takers are relatively young military or airline pilots, and they do not provide a beneficial point of comparison for many GA pilots.
"Excellent normative data exist for commercial and military pilots, but since the airlines and military are able to be very selective, the norms associated with these groups are not ideal for evaluating GA pilots," said Dr. Chris Front, the FAA clinical psychologist spearheading the GA testing effort. "We want to improve the CogScreen normative data for GA pilots so we are better able to compare a pilot's individual neurocognitive performance with healthy peers of the same age group who are doing the same type of flying."
This means that, assuming enough pilots at AirVenture provide data points and establish valid norms, using CogScreen to recover an FAA medical certificate after a brain injury will be much more fair and sensible than it has been in the past.
"A successful week at AirVenture will enable us to compare the CogScreen-AE results of a 75-year-old GA pilot who recovered from a mild stroke, for instance, to scores of healthy GA pilots in their 70s, rather than commercial pilots in their 50s," Dr. Front said. "That is likely to be a more beneficial comparison for GA pilots."
"We are very excited to see that CogScreen is now gathering data that reflect more of our membership," said Dr. Jack Hastings, a neurologist on the EAA Aeromedical Advisory Council. "For years, the data set was strongly skewed towards very healthy pilots with first-class medicals, leaving many recreational pilots at a substantial disadvantage when they went to be examined after a brain injury. This will help many of our members get a fair cognitive evaluation and get their medicals back."
Participants in the test remain totally anonymous to the FAA, which only has access to group scores. Furthermore, the testing is conducted by volunteer clinical neuropsychologists, not FAA medical personnel. Participants receive immediate feedback on their performance, a CogScreen-AE travel mug, and a chance to win $100, $50, and $25 Amazon gift cards, awarded to the three highest-performing pilots during the week.
The testing will be conducted in a quiet, air-conditioned space in the FAA Safety Center next to the control tower, and all pilots are encouraged to participate. The testing is open all day, every day for the entire week of AirVenture.