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JU Aviation Director Juan Merkt publishes energy-centered approach to airplane safety

Boosting flight training that can reduce fatal aircraft accidents and conserve fuel is the goal of a new study published by Jacksonville University Davis Aviation Center Director Dr. Juan Merkt.

“Flight Energy Management Training: Promoting Safety and Efficiency” appears in the Journal of Aviation Technology and Engineering (JATE). Published by Purdue University Press, JATE is a refereed, open-access journal bridging aviation technology, engineering and human factors. The article can be viewed at http://jateonline.org.

Merkt’s paper published Oct. 28 identifies a critical gap in civilian pilot training and leads the way in proposing solutions. According to previous studies, poor flight energy management is a significant contributing factor in fatal aircraft accidents worldwide and is also responsible for wasted fuel.

JU Davis Aviation Center Director Juan Merkt

“An airplane is the quintessential energy system—continuously transforming, transferring, distributing, storing, and exchanging various forms of energy as it moves through the air,” said Merkt. “Yet, energy system principles associated with motion control and performance, though well-tried and proven in other disciplines, have not found their way into flight education. As a result, energy management skills, founded on those basic principles, are not being taught or evaluated adequately in civilian flight training.”

The study is designed to raise awareness of the need for basic energy training, lay the groundwork for key energy principles that aviation educators can incorporate into their teaching, and propose guidelines for effective design of energy management training programs for pilots, added Merkt.

To make the case, the study uses energy management to link safety and efficiency—where safety is concerned with controlling the airplane’s altitude (potential energy) and airspeed (kinetic energy), and efficiency with managing its fuel energy. It then synthesizes energy principles across multiple disciplines and reveals how such principles, once simplified, become powerful instructional tools for exploring the role of the flight controls and the airplane’s performance envelope. Finally, combining ideas from physics, engineering, air combat tactics, and biology, the study suggests that an integrated, energy-centered, top-down training approach will lead to an improved mental model of how the airplane works, thus enhancing energy management and decision-making skills for safe and efficient flight operations.

What’s next? Merkt is working on a model energy management curriculum, made up of academic and practical training, to be tested at JU and discussed in a future publication.

“I have already taught some of the academic components in a special topic course at JU; the first one of this nature in the world,” said Merkt. “The challenge is in developing the practical training, given the limitations of typical civilian training aircraft (and simulators) as well as the lack of true energy state/rate indicators in cockpit displays. However, the effort is worth pursuing since an energy-centered approach may prove to be an effective tool for enhancing aviation safety and efficiency.”

Download the article at http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/2159-6670.1072.

More information: Phillip Milano, JU Director of News and Publications, (904) 349-9830, pmilano@ju.edu; and Dr. Juan Merkt, Director, JU Davis Aviation Center, (904) 256-7894; jmerkt@ju.edu.

About Juan Merkt

Dr. Merkt has been involved in programs that educate and train aspiring airline pilots since 1994. His research interests include aircraft and human performance limitations in extreme environments. Merkt’s credentials include a Harvard Ph.D. and FAA commercial pilot and Gold Seal flight instructor certificates with some 1400 hours of pilot in command and over 1000 hours as flight instructor. He serves on the board of trustees of the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) and is chair of its criteria and international committees. Merkt has served as an AABI representative in the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) taskforce created by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to address the worldwide shortage of skilled aviation professionals. He recently received AABI’s Paul Whelan Educator Award for his efforts to improve aviation education and accreditation around the world.

About the Davis Aviation Center

Jacksonville University’s Davis Aviation Center in the Davis College of Business has prepared future professional pilots and aviation executives for 30 years. Its Aviation Management (AVM) and Aviation Management & Flight Operations (AVO) degree programs are accredited by AABI. Students benefit from a one-of-a-kind partnership with Aerosim Flight Academy, providing airline-oriented flight training. In addition, JU is among a handful of universities that offer pilot hiring agreements with several airlines. For more information about the program, call (904) 256-7895 or visit us at http://www.ju.edu/aviation.