New Tool Developed to Improve Pilot Visibility

By Connie Lee

Army photo

Special Operations Command and the Army are adopting new technology to improve visibility during flight operations in degraded conditions.

Sierra Nevada Corp. was selected for the third phase of the degraded visual environment pilotage system competition following a 2015 airborne test. The company’s most recent contract modification includes full-rate production, according to a company news release.

Paul Bontrager, Sierra Nevada’s vice president for government relations, said the system will help pilots operate in areas with limited visibility such as fog and dust.

“We’ve always had a hard time flying in snow and flying in dirt,” he said. “In Army aviation we’ve been waiting for this technology to mature, and it has.”

To enable pilots to maintain their situational awareness, the product has multiple features such as cameras and radars, he said. The system also has light detection and ranging. By combining sensors, a pilot is able to see a more accurate picture of the surrounding environment. Additionally, there are different versions of the system with varying amounts of sensors, he noted. 

Sierra Nevada can take data from multiple sensors and fuse the imagery onto a screen, he said.

“A camera can do so much,” he said. “But then a lidar can actually paint the landing area and give a lot of detail about the surface.”

The military has often had to fly in challenging operating environments, he noted. In the Middle East, pilots would often experience “brown out,” which occurs when visibility is impacted by dust and sand which has resulted in crashes, he said.

“When we got embroiled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a significant thing,” he said. “We actually had more losses in the more recent years when it wasn’t direct combat operations. We have more losses annually due to flying into planet Earth unintentionally than we do from enemy fire.”

The degraded visual environment pilotage system is likely to be used in Army Chinooks and Black Hawks, and any aircraft with lifting capacity, he noted.

“These are aircraft that have to land and take-off ... in all environments,” he said. “This is where it’s most likely to be used initially … and hopefully all aircraft will be outfitted with this technology eventually.”

Topics: Air Power

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