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The effect of aircraft control forces on pilot performance during instrument landings in a flight simulatorBACKGROUND: Pilots may have difficulty controlling aircraft at both high and low force levels due to larger variability in force production at these force levels. The aim of this study was to measure the force variability and landing performance of pilots during an instrument landing in a flight simulator. METHODS: There were 12 pilots who were tested while performing 5 instrument landings in a flight simulator, each of which required different control force inputs. Pilots can produce the least force when pushing the control column to the right, therefore the force levels for the landings were set relative to each pilot's maximum aileron-right force. The force levels for the landings were 90%, 60%, and 30% of maximal aileron-right force, normal force, and 25% of normal force. Variables recorded included electromyographic activity (EMG), aircraft control forces, aircraft attitude, perceived exertion and deviation from glide slope and heading. Multivariate analysis of variance was used to test for differences between landings. RESULTS: Pilots were least accurate in landing performance during the landing at 90% of maximal force (p < 0.05). There was also a trend toward decreased landing performance during the landing at 25% of normal force. Pilots were more variable in force production during the landings at 60% and 90% of maximal force (p < 0.05). CONCLUSION: Pilots are less accurate at performing instrument landings when control forces are high due to the increased variability of force production. The increase in variability at high force levels is most likely associated with motor unit recruitment, rather than rate coding. Aircraft designers need to consider the reduction in pilot performance at high force levels, as well as pilot strength limits when specifying new standards.