Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

James L. Mohler

Committee Co-Chair

Craig L. Miller

Committee Member 1

Eric A. Nauman

Committee Member 2

Larry J. Leverenz


Exploring differences between experts and novices by observing task-specific performance has been an important area of research in several domains. This study examined differences in expert and novice aircraft pilots based on their cortical activity and spatial orientation ability. Twenty-eight aircraft pilots (eight experts, 20 novices) performed 23 in-flight sequences inside a flight simulator while their cortical activity was recorded using an electroencephalographic (EEG) device. Thirty-two aircraft pilots (11 experts, 21 novices) attempted a 30-question multiple-choice spatial orientation ability test. Outcomes of the study revealed significant differences in cortical activity between expert and novice groups. Novice pilots projected higher mental workload implying efficiency in brain usage for experts. Novices also exhibited increased cortical activity for rest sequences compared to expert pilots. Experts displayed higher focused visual attention for visual flight rules (VFR) sequences. Moreover, experts also showed increased brain activity for tasks involving usage of the cockpit instrumentation system. Significant differences were observed between rest and active flight sequences for all participants. It was also observed that power spectral density (PSD) for all frequency bands begins to stabilize once pilots attain 200 flight hours and 50 simulator hours. This study also corroborated that aircraft pilots, in general, have high spatial orientation ability.