Flying Fatigue in Twentieth-Century Britain: An Uncertain Zone
Date: 20 September 2017
University of Exeter
PhD in Medical History
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fatigue was a common workplace complaint. As chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority Lord John Boyd-Carpenter put it in 1974, though, it occupied an ‘uncertain zone’. Vague and contestable throughout the century, and linked inextricably to working practices, fatigue proved fertile ground for ...
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fatigue was a common workplace complaint. As chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority Lord John Boyd-Carpenter put it in 1974, though, it occupied an ‘uncertain zone’. Vague and contestable throughout the century, and linked inextricably to working practices, fatigue proved fertile ground for debate. With a specific focus on civil aviation and aircrew, this thesis traces the shifting explanations of and responses to flying fatigue from the start of the First World War to the formal institution of Crew Resource Management (CRM) training in the mid-1990s. Beginning with a discussion of fatigue as it was constituted and examined in industrial and military settings in the first half of the twentieth century, this thesis then turns to post-war civil aviation. The models of fatigue developed by Flying Personnel Research Committee (FPRC) researchers during wartime framed post-war understandings of fatigue. . It argues that, though in many ways fatigue was increasingly divorced from science in the post-war period, an essential model of fatigue persisted. This was, in a sense, a dual discourse. While framedConceptualised as performance decrement in some instances, in other contexts fatigue was considered in terms of sleep and wakefulness. Regardless of definition, the apparent dangers of aircrew fatigue were agreed upon. Linked to air accidents throughout the century, the fatigue of aircrew was thought to have implications for flight safety. This thesis examines how these various discourses of fatigue informed – and were informed by – military policies, regulatory frameworks, and airline-union negotiations. Drawing on a rich base of oral history interviews with flight deck and cabin crew, it looks, also, at the ways in which fatigue was experienced and given new meaning in quotidian contexts. Examining flying fatigue in relation to broader post-war concerns about productivity, public safety, and the health and welfare of workers, this thesis offers new perspectives on the complex interplay between science, industry, and society in middle and late twentieth-century Britain.
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