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Here's an ASTB History Lesson

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Paul Burke

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I pulled this off of the NOMI discussion board and thought I'd share it with everyone.


For the past 60 years a small band of Aerospace Experimental Psychologists (AEPs) at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI, now a detachment of the Naval Operational Medicine Institute, NOMI) has been employed in the development and administration of tests for use in identifying and selecting candidates likely to be successful in the mentally and physically demanding environment of naval aviation. This history began in 1939 as The Pensacola Project, in which over 30 different psychological tests were administered to entering naval flight students in an effort to determine which tests, if any, were predictive of success in flight training. The large scope of this project and the country's entry into WWII inspired the Navy to create a new designator for the uniformed psychologists conducting this work; on 26 December 1941 CAPT Alan Grinsted was designated Naval Aviation Psychologist number 1. By 1942 two tests, the Aviation Classification Test and the Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test had been identified as strong predictors of aviation training success, and in that year the Navy began to select candidates for aviation training on the basis of these tests.

Over the years, AEPs at NAMI and NAMRL, which was once the research arm of NAMI, but which is now an independent command, have periodically revised the battery of tests used to select student naval aviators and flight officers. Despite these revisions the tests currently in use, the Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB), are remarkably similar to the originals. This is primarily due to the fact that the human skills involved in flying have not substantially changed over this period, despite the revolution that has occurred in aviation technology.

The current ASTB consists of four aptitude measures and one background questionnaire. These five subtests are scored in various weighted combinations to produce five aviation-specific scores, the Academic Qualifications Rating (AQR), the Pilot Flight Aptitude Rating (PFAR), the Flight Officer Flight Aptitude Rating (FOFAR), the Pilot Biographical Inventory (PBI), and the Flight Officer Flight Aptitude Rating (FOFAR). An Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) score is also reported; this score is used for selection into Officer Candidate School. Of the five aviation-related scores, three, the AQR, PFAR and PBI are used for selecting Student Naval Aviators, and three, the AQR (again), FOFAR and FOBI, are used for selecting Student Naval Flight Officers. Each of the services that use these tests (Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) sets its own minimum qualifying standards.

The ASTB has been and continues to be of enormous value to the naval services. Since ASTB scores are highly predictive of such training outcomes as academic grades, flight grades, time required to complete training and probability of completing training, the use of the tests for selecting flight students saves the Navy in terms of both time and money, and undoubtedly in terms of lives and equipment as well. Considering just the savings realized from reduced training attrition rates, the use of these tests saves the Navy in excess of $20 million annually.

Although the scope and impact of the ASTB are large, the program is efficiently run by a small group of folks tucked away in their own corner of NAMI. CDR Dan Dolgin heads the Operational Psychology Department. With a staff of just six, the department administers three prominent navy-wide testing programs, of which ASTB is the largest. Besides ASTB, the department also administers the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) for selection of officers to OCS and Landing Craft Air-Cushion psychomotor screening tests for selection of LCAC Craftmasters and Engineers. The ASTB program in particular is a very high volume program, averaging just over 10,000 tests annually. Most ASTB clients (usually recruiters or NROTC administrators) are generally quite surprised when they visit the department for the first time. Most say they had envisioned a department-store-sized office packed with telephone operators and a cacophony of whirring and buzzing machinery cranking out test score reports. The real shop is actually quite small and quiet, considering the tremendous scope and volume of the programs it administers. Much of this efficiency can be attributed to the practical expertise of the department's Psychology Technician, Ms. Jean Moore, who is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the shop, and who after over a decade on board is probably the world's top expert on ASTB.

The shop is closely linked to the fleet on a world-wide basis. In addition to the 150 permanent ASTB test sites, temporary test custody is frequently granted for testing of deployed forces. The volume of incoming mail, faxes and telephone calls requesting or returning tests or answer sheets, and outgoing mail and faxes of test materials and score reports is enormous. That this process proceeds day after day virtually unnoticed by the outside world is in itself a tribute to the dedicated professionalism and achievement of the three individuals who perform these duties, HM1 Ed Rivera, HM3 Laura Kitchen and Ms. Rebekah Armstrong.

In an exciting new development NAMI Operational Psychology Department and NOMI Information Management Department are laying the groundwork for fleet-wide web-based ASTB testing. Building upon a prototype internet-based ASTB called APEX (for Automated Pilot Exam), which was developed by NAMRL beginning in the mid-1990s, and which is currently being used at five CONUS ASTB test sites, NAMI plans to develop a web browser-based version of ASTB, with fleet-wide availability. This program will drastically reduce turnaround time for the reporting of test scores, while greatly improving test security and oversight. This bold new initiative is just one of many jewels in the showcase of operational medicine now on display at the Naval Operational Medicine Institute.


LT Rick Arnold, Aerospace Experimental Psychologist number 115, is Biostatistics and Fleet Support division officer in the Operational Psychology Department at NAMI
 
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