New peer-reviewed scientific research suggests mindfulness mental training helps F-16 fighter pilots. It’s in the latest edition of the International Journal of Aviation Psychology, and describes a long-term (2-year) study using Norwegian F-16 pilots. These high-performance combat-rated pilots show a increase in self-perceived skills associated with mindfulness, attention regulation and arousal regulation following a regime of mindfulness training. Alone it’s not the greatest study, due to self-reporting qualitative measures and lack of a control group, but in talking to the lead author I’ve learned much more is coming.
Anders Meland is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Aviation Medicine and has written a book (in Norwegian) on his team’s work with perceptual and attentional training in high performance pilots, athletes and leaders. In 2011 they started a collaboration with the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and the Olympic training center. He told me:
Since our fighter study we have conducted several controlled experiments on elite athletes and a number of military air-force squadrons testing similar and different mindfulness-based training methods. In these experiments we did not only use subjective measures, but also more objective measures of attention, and stress (cortisol and HRV). We are currently in the process of writing out these papers.
The cooperation between elite sports and air-force is still very fruitful and has been further formalized, extended and funded so we can plan and conduct future experiments to solve common challenges within the mental domain.
The initial meditation/mindfulness exercises were designed to reduce general stress in F-16 air crew, but researchers found that many of them felt the training also resulted in more fluidness is the air. The pilots used phrases like “being totally in the now”, “sustain attention on the task”, “being relaxed, calm – but fully awake”.
It’s exciting research. These are highly trained elite aviators given the most expensive flight training tools available. And now we know there is an additional validated method to become a better pilot that you and I can use today. For free! If you’re not doing some quiet mindfulness mental training, you are missing out. It’s a scientific fact.
Reference: Meland, A., Fonnea, V., Wagstaff, A., & Marte-Pensgaard, A. (2015). Mindfulness-based mental training in a high-performance combat aviation population: A one-year intervention study and two-year follow-up. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 23(1), pages 48-61.