I was puzzled to read (Wikipedia article on situational awareness) that:

The term can be traced to World War I, where it was recognized as a crucial skill for crews in military aircraft.

but in the next paragraph:

There is evidence that the term Situational Awareness was first employed at the Douglas Aircraft Company during Human Factors Engineering research while developing vertical and horizontal situation displays and evaluating digital-control placement for the next generation of commercial aircraft.

and then the next:

Situation awareness appears in the technical literature as early as 1983

I imagine that the concept found work in understanding piloting very early on; what is the history of the term in aviation?

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    $\begingroup$ You could try english.SE if you don't get a useful answer here; they have lots of questions about the history of words and phrases. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ Not definitive, but I recall the use of that term with an instructor when I was getting an instrument rating in the 70's. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ What a great question. I would love to know the answer to this. I wasn't aware that the term specifically arose from aviation; awesome. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Fattie I am not sure that it did - I think that aviation may have taken it (the term) from military usage. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, the earliest reference that Google Ngrams can find is in 1946. It may have been used before that, of course; I have no idea how extensive/reliable Google's corpus is. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 18:31

1 Answer 1


According to M. Press, in his 1986 unpublished manuscript Situation Awareness, let's get serious about the clue-bird which is cited by many authors, the concept of SA can be traced back to aces of WW1, in particular Oswald Boelcke.

According to M. Press, his success was due to him being aware of the enemy before the enemy sees him.

From Situation Awareness Analysis and Measurement, Mica R. Endsley, Daniel J. Garland, p7:

The earliest discussions of SA undoubtedly derive from the pilot community going back as far as World War I (Press, 1986)

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    $\begingroup$ The word "Lage" has been used in the Prussian military at least since von Clausewitz to describe the military situation. "Luftlage" was then a logical extension when officers started to fly planes. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 19:59

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