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Military forces often have to fly in challenging operating environments. In the Middle East, pilots would often experience “brown out,” which occurs when visibility is impacted by dust and sand, rain and snow, which has resulted in crashes. A new multisensor platform will help pilots operate in areas with limited visibility such as fog and dust and maintain their situational awareness.

The technology is being adopted by the US Special Operations Command and the Army in order to improve visibility during flight operations in degraded conditions. The platform is designed to support aircraft takeoff, en route and landing functions to help airmen avoid obstacles and challenging terrains.

The technology uses input from a number of passive and active, high-resolution and deep penetrating sensors to generate real-time, fused imagery and command guidance to help guide pilots through all obscurants during the entire flight. System capabilities also include GPS denied navigation.

The product developed by Sierra Nevada Corp. has multiple features such as cameras and radars, 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. 

According to nationaldefensemagazine.org, the technology can take data from multiple sensors and fuse the imagery onto a screen. For example, a lidar adds to the information supplied by the camera by painting the landing area and giving the pilot more details about the surface.

“When we got embroiled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a significant thing,” Paul Bontrager, the company’s VP for government relations 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.”