Over the decades, helicopter pilots have improved their craft with advances in night vision, helmet-connected targeting systems.
But one pesky item continues to blind the best pilots ― dust.
Researchers at the Army’s Communications, Electronics Research and Development Command have built a Degraded Visual Environment camera that can see through the overwhelming clouds of dust that swirl, enveloping entire choppers as they land.
The technology was recently on display at the command’s Fort Belvoir, Virginia, home during a visit from Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy.
Demonstrators set up a tent, industrial fan and a camera outside that peered in through the window. As the fan kicked up the dust, filling the air, viewers could see clearly enough to observe a Stryker vehicle on the opposite side and spectators moving back and forth.
On a flat screen television, video of desert tests showed a color recording of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter landing at a U.S. facility as it would appear to the naked eye from the vantage point of a soldier on the ground.
The view then switched to the standard field of view using current night vision goggles from the pilot’s seat. As the rotary aircraft neared the ground, all in its path disappeared.
Finally, the new DVE camera view came on the screen.
The pilot looked out on a detailed landscape, complete with darkening shades of gray and black while flying across the terrain.
Then, approaching the ground, as the dust billowed, the pilot was still able to see clearly through the dust.
Paul Price, a retired Army helicopter pilot who now serves as chief of CERDEC’s aviation branch, told McCarthy that the improved visuals were crucial to operating in the dusty desert environments that soldiers have found themselves in recent decades.
The “novel infrared technology” was invented and patented by CERDEC’s Night Vision Electronic Sensors Directorate. It sees through brownout conditions but also improves day and night vision in “degraded visual environments,” according to CERDEC materials.
The capability is expected to be fielded in the “near term,” but that wasn’t defined clearly due to operational security concerns, said Edric Thompson, a CERDEC spokesman.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.