FARNBOROUGH 2008: Vision system to counter helicopter ‘brownouts’

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Elbit Systems has unveiled its new solution to the problem of helicopter landing “brownouts”, where dust and sand is whipped up by a rotor’s downwash, impairing the pilot’s visibility and making landings hazardous.

Using a unique demonstration tool of actors and 3D imagery to the backdrop of an IMAX-style cinema screen, the new Dust-Off system uses Elbit’s avionics suite with the ANVIS/HUD-24T (known in the UK as DNVG) and line of sight (LOS) tracker; surveillance and warning obstacle ranging and display (SWORD) laser radar(LADAR) and a digital map system to let pilots “see” through the debris outside the cockpit.

The ANVIS/HUD-24T displays aircraft flight instrumentation in front of the pilot’s eyes, while the SWORD LADAR uses a high-speed eyesafe scanning beam to map obstacles and terrain digitally in front of the helicopter. The SWORD system was originally designed to help pilots avoid collision with electrical cables, wires and antennas.
Dalia Rosen, senior director head of communications, says: “We are bringing together existing technologies to offer a solution to this major problem for helicopter pilots operating in dusty conditions.”

Brownouts have become a major problem for military operations, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the first year of the war in Iraq, brownout accidents cost the US Army three fatalities, 29 non-fatal injuries, and $60 million in equipment damage, according to the Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate.

It says one Army Chinook was destroyed and 16 soldiers were injured in Afghanistan when a Boeing CH-47D set down with part of its landing gear in an irrigation ditch. The same problem can occur when landing a helicopter on snow – called a “white-out”.

Major Peter Doty, a US Air Force research laboratory/defense advanced research projects agency (DARPA) researcher, said recently that “helicopter brownouts are probably the most significant of all military operational concerns when landings are required in desert environments”.

Working solutions to the brownout problem are now big business. In the US, DARPA is currently testing the new Sandblaster landing system for military helicopters.
Rosen says this is the first time Dust-Off has been brought to the international market by Elbit, and the company is confident most Western or NATO nations will show interest.