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Cognative testing
Patricia Storm starts the cognative test. (photo by Phil Weston)

By James Wynbrandt

August 2, 2013 - Attention GA pilots attending Oshkosh: The FAA wants to borrow your brain.

The FAA and the Cognitive Research Corporation (CogScreen) seek GA pilots to participate in a computerized test - the CogScreen-AE. Its aim: establish a baseline of cognitive function.

Conducted at the FAA Safety Center adjacent to the control tower, the results will be used in the future to determine whether pilots who have lost their medical due to a head injury, stroke, or other medical condition that could impact the brain are safe to return to flying.

"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 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."

The FAA is seeking 150 pilots here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh to participate in the test, developed by CogScreen president Dr. Gary Kay, and as of Friday morning, 100 had taken part. Fifty-two pilots took the test at Sun 'n Fun.

"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."

EAA actively supports the effort. "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," said Dr. Jack Hastings, a neurologist on the EAA Aeromedical Advisory Council. "This will help many of our members get a fair cognitive evaluation and get their medicals back."

The questions, though not aviation related, utilize portions of the brain pilots rely on in flight. Participants remain anonymous, and a neuropsychologist evaluates and explains each person's results.

"The valuable thing for airmen is, they'll find out how they're doing on the test," Front said. "Normally these tests cost several hundred dollars, and can only be administered by a clinical neuropsychologist with specialization in aerospace medicine."

Additionally, the test will establish a baseline for each participant that they can access via an examinee ID number. Should he or she ever need a CogScreen assessment for medical recertification in the future, the test results could be invaluable for comparative purposes.

Any GA pilot with a current medical or a medical that has lapsed without being deferred, denied, or revoked, with no history of brain injury, is eligible to take the test, as are retired military or commercial pilots. The entire process requires an hour and a half or less. All participants receive a travel mug, and the three highest scorers will receive Amazon gift cards ($100, $50, and $25).


FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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