The name "Betty" is a generic popular traditional name from American culture, and is thought not to be derived from more recent uses of the word to describe an attractive female (in reference to Betty Rubble of The Flintstones).
The enunciating voice, in at least some aircraft systems, may be either male or female and in some cases this may be selected according to pilot preference. If the voice is female it may be referred to as Bitching Betty; if the voice is male it may be referred to as Barking Bob. A female voice is heard on military aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Mikoyan MiG-29. A male voice is heard on Boeing commercial airliners and is also used in the BAE Hawk.
In the United Kingdom the term Nagging Nora is sometimes used, and in New Zealand the term used for Boeing aircraft is Hank the Yank. The voice warning system used on London Underground trains, which also uses a female voice, is known to some staff as Sonya as it "gets on ya nerves".
There are two notable systems, which emply voice warnings, and which are found in most commercial and military aircraft: TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) and TAWS/EGPWS (Terrain Avoidance Warning System / Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System). Both systems provide warnings and verbal instructions.
The auditory warnings produced by these systems usually include a separate attention-getting sound, followed by one or verbal commands to the pilot/crew. Perhaps the most widely known example, encountered in many video games and movies, is the "Pull up! Pull up!" command. Other common spoken warnings are "Caution, Terrain", "Windshear! Windshear!", or "Traffic, Traffic". These may be followed by short directions to the pilot, advising how the situation may be resolved. TCAS and TAWS/EGPWS are usually integrated to prevent conflicting advice, such as an instruction to "Descend! Descend!" to avoid another aircraft when the aircraft is already close to the ground.
Modern Boeing and Airbus airliners both feature a male voice, which calls out height above terrain on approach to land, and other related warnings. Airbus aircraft feature a distinctive British RP accent (heard on recent builds of the A320 and all Airbus aircraft since the A330 and A340), or a French accent (heard on ECAM-equipped A300s, A310s and early A320s).
A female voice was incorporated into McDonnell Douglas DC-9, MD-80/90, MD-11 and Boeing 717 (inherited from McDonnell Douglas after the merger with Boeing) series aircraft in their Central Aural Warning Systems (CAWS). These systems provided a voice for most warnings, including fire, altitude, cabin altitude, stall, overspeed, autopilot disconnect and so on.
In more advanced cockpits, on newer aircraft, there may be many other voice warnings managed by an integrated Indications and Crew Alerting System (ICAS) such as "Gear up. Gear up." These may be warning words or phrases, or simply declarative statements which augment the pilot's situation awareness.
Early human factors research in aircraft and other domains indicated that female voices were more authoritative to male pilots and crew members and were more likely to get their attention. Much of this research was based on pilot experiences, particularly in combat situations, where the pilots were being guided by female air traffic controllers. They reported being able to most easily pick out the female voice from amid the flurry of radio chatter.
More recent research, however, carried out since more females have been employed as pilots and air traffic controllers, indicates that the original popular hypothesis may be unreliable. General human factors wisdom now indicates largely that, either due to current culture or changing attitudes, an automated female voice is no more or less effective than a male voice.
Edworthy and colleauges in 2003, based at Plymouth University in UK, for example, found that both acoustic and non-acoustic differences between male and female speakers were negligible. Therefore, they recommended, the choice of speaker should depend on the overlap of noise and speech spectra. Female voices did, however, appear to have an advantage in that they could portray a greater range of urgencies because of their usually higher pitch and pitch range. They reported an experiment showing that knowledge about the sex of a speaker has no effect on judgments of perceived urgency, with acoustic variables accounting for such differences.
Arrabito in 2009, however, at Defence Research and Development Canada in Toronto, found that with simulated cockpit background radio traffic, a male voice rather than a female voice, in a monotone or urgent annunciaton style, resulted in the largest proportion of correct and fastest identification response times to verbal warnings, regardless of the gender of the listener.
There have been several "Bitching Bettys", over the years, for various commercial and military aircraft:
- Kim Crow - Crow's was the first voice ever to be digitized. Pilots and astronauts know her as the original Bitching Betty.
- Erica Lane - her voice can be heard in the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter.
- Sue Milne - her voice is used in the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Voice warning systems included in cars of the late 1970s to early 1980s, such as the Datsun Z-Car series, found in the 280ZX, were also known as Bitching Betty. The Datsun system issued commands such as "lights are on," or "Left door is open." Datsun's original name for the feature was "Talking Lady."
- "The Tube: Episode 1" at bbc.co.uk, broadcast 20 February 2012
- Edworthy, J; Hellier, E; Rivers, J (Oct–Dec 2003). "The use of male or female voices in warnings systems: a question of acoustics.". Noise & health 6 (21): 39–50. PMID 14965452.
- Arrabito, G. Robert, "Effects of Talker Sex and Voice Style of Verbal Cockpit Warnings on Performance", Human Factors, Vol 51, No. 1, 2009, pp.3-20
- Kim Crow
- Erica Lane
- Alex Ward (2012-07-04). "Fighter pilots to get 'nagging Nora' female voice commands in the cockpit of Typhoon jets | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
- Stanton, N. A. and Edworthy, J., 1999. Human Factors in Auditory Warnings, Ashgate, Aldershot, UK. ISBN 0-291-39849-9