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Revista Andaluza de Medicina del Deporte

On-line version ISSN 2172-5063Print version ISSN 1888-7546


GARCIA-MAS, A. et al. Workload and cortisol levels in helicopter combat pilots during simulated flights. Rev Andal Med Deporte [online]. 2016, vol.9, n.1, pp.7-11. ISSN 2172-5063.

Objective: Examine and compare the cortisol levels before and after a simulated flight related to workload in experienced helicopter combat pilots, searching for physiological levels of anxiety. Method: 15 volunteer Spanish Army helicopter combat pilots (36.83 ± 8.04 years) were studied before and after a simulated flight (eight new tasks). Salivary cortisol was measured by DRG salivary cortisol ELISA, and we studied workload using the NASA-TLX. Results: The differences in the mean values of cortisol level before (5.33 ± 1.55) and after the task at the flight simulator (4.47 ± 0.73) are statistically significant (t14 = 3.301; p =.005) with a high effect size (d = 0.75). Similar significant differences were also found (t14 = 3.301; p =.005) between the workload before (19.76 ± 10.54), and after the task (24.82 ± 10.42; medium effect size d = -0.48). No significant relationships were found between the cortisol levels and the workload. Conclusions: Cortisol levels in saliva and workload are the usual in stress situations, and change inversely: workload increases at the end of the task, whereas the cortisol levels decrease after the simulated flight. The somatic anxiety decreases as the task is done. In contrast, when the pilots are faced with new and demanding tasks, even if they fly this type of helicopter in different conditions, the workload increases toward the end of the task. From an applied point of view, these findings should impact the tactical, physical and mental training of such pilots.

Keywords : Workload; Anxiety; Cortisol; Simulated flights; Combat helicopters; Pilots.

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