Brownout or brown trousers?
Brownout has caused numerous military helicopter crashes in Iraq and Honeywell's synthetic vision technology, which is revolutionising business-jet cockpits, has been picked as part of a solution to the problem. Brownout occurs when a landing helicopter is enveloped in the dust blown up by its rotor. No longer able to see the ground, the crew becomes disoriented.
A cockpit display showing a synthetic view of the landing zone generated from an onboard terrain database, augmented with real-time information on obstacles detected by a millimetre-wave radar that can see through the dust, is part of the brownout solution being developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under its Sandblaster programme.
The intent is to have a system ready for operational use within 18 months. That will be none too soon.
With the V-22 Osprey scheduled to begin its first operational deployment to Iraq in September, I asked the Sandblaster folks at DARPA whether the tiltrotor, with its rotors perched at the tips of the wing, was any less prone to brownout than a conventional helicopter. On the contrary, based on tests done for DARPA, it's worse. "Never seen a dust cloud like it," they said. "The crew said they had to throw away their flight suits after - and they didn't specify why!"