Air Force Aviation Psychology applies traditional psychology principles, methods, and techniques to individual and group issues within the flying community. It expands upon the standard practice of military psychology to include components of community and occupational health psychology.
The Aviation Psychology program provides an opportunity for credentialed psychologists to be immersed in the flying community to better understand and mitigate the behavioral, emotional, and physical strain aircrew experience in the performance of their duties. They may be involved in counseling or wellness services, development or optimization of training programs, flying assessments or even a member of a mishap investigation board working to explain the human factors that contributed to an accident.
“In addition to psychological knowledge, you want an Aviation Psychologist to have an in-depth understanding of the aviation field, and to be trained in the Air Force Medical Standards to ensure anything medical or mental health-related has an expert looking at the aeromedical risk disposition,” DeLaney said. “However, I think the most essential aspect of Aviation Psychology is optimization of aircrew performance.”
DeLaney also outlined the need for involvement in the aircrew training process, understanding the challenges in the training pipeline, and looking at what human factors impact each aspect of the aircrew and the specific aircraft. This includes everything from design and assessment to operational task improvement.
Dr. Timothy Strongin, a retired colonel and a pioneer Air Force aviation psychologist, was on hand to provide his thoughts to the first APIC class going through the flight training.
“The aviation psychologist’s job is to support the Air Force’s mission any way they can,” Strongin said. “We do this by ensuring the aviator’s mental health, like physical health, is at peak performance when the task comes.”
“The more aware an individual is of their own condition, the condition of their friends and its interaction with the environment, the better decisions they can make to minimize risks,” Strongin said. “We can identify opportunities to reduce risk while enhancing performance.”
The class was made up of one Army and four Air Force psychologists who were able to observe undergraduate pilot training, daily operations, interact with aircrew, and fly in the various aircraft to understand sentiment and struggles as well as incorporate practical experience from experts.
“As an aeromedical psychologist or aviation psychologist, we need to be present with those that we are to serve in the unit,” said Lt. Col. Tracy Durham, School of Aviation Medicine, Fort Rucker, Alabama. “Having been co-located with Air Force units in the deployed environment on a couple of occasions, I have found that there is an inter-service need for aeromedical psychologists to provide assistance to aircrew.”
The intent of the program is to integrate these psychologists into large training and operational flying units and place them on aeronautical orders to better understand and support the mission needs of those organizations.
“Aviation psychologists get to do all of the most fun things within the Air Force,” DeLaney said. “We are able to be proficient in aviation and do what we need to do to optimize the aircrew, flying on the aircraft on our installation to monitor the human factors present in training and current aviation, and impacting mission, policy and training for the better.”
Air Force psychologists who want to apply for the Aviation Psychology Fellowship can do so through the Air Force Institute of Technology. It is a competitive selection process accepting one to two positions per cycle and train for a full year in aviation. Alternately, the designator can be earned by receiving supervised training in a specified position after three years.