Army aviation striving to 'own the weather'
Soldiers of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, watch a Kiowa helicopter land in the desert dust at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 21, 2013. Aviators and acquisition officials are exploring sensors, queing and control methods to better enable flying and landing in what is called a "degraded visual environment."

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Aug. 15, 2013) -- Flying a helicopter through rain, fog or cloudy conditions is challenging and dangerous, so a team of U.S. Army engineers have taken on the challenge to research ways to make flying in degraded visual environments easier and safer for rotorcraft pilots.

In July 2012, the Army initiated the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Rotorcraft Degraded Visual Environment Mitigation Program in order to execute a synchronized, collaborative effort across the AMRDEC science and technology community to assess and address the problem of degraded visual environment.

Degraded visual environment, or DVE, is defined as reduced visibility of potentially varying degree, wherein situational awareness and aircraft control cannot be maintained as comprehensively as in normal visual meteorological conditions and can potentially be lost.

According to Todd Dellert, an experimental test pilot and lead of the Rotorcraft DVE Mitigation Program, over the past 10 years DVE contributed to 87 rotorcraft accidents, 108 fatalities and more than $880 million in material losses. Many of the losses were due to operations in "brownout" conditions, which are helicopter-induced dust clouds resulting from downwash of the rotor system.

But DVE is more than just "brownout." Other factors are smoke, rain, smog, sand and dust, clouds, darkness, fog, snow and flat light.

Dellert said the team's mantra is "Own the Weather," which means the pursuit of material solutions to not only allow safe and efficient rotorcraft operation but also to expand the capability of commanders to deploy their rotorcraft aviation assets when the weather is well below visual meteorological conditions minimums.

Army officials view potential DVE mitigation system solutions as comprised of three pillars: improved flight controls, sensors, and cueing.

Improving the existing flight controls systems and/or laws and handling characteristics will assist the pilot in managing workload when vision or situational awareness is challenged or obscured. Sensor technologies will allow "see-through" capability when DVE conditions are encountered. And symbology, aural or tactile cueing will provide information to the pilot reference aircraft state and potentially guidance for executing a mission task such as landing and take-off.

The Rotorcraft DVE Mitigation Program includes the AMRDEC Aviation Applied Technology Directorate, AMRDEC Aeroflightdynamics Directorate, AMRDEC System Simulation and Development Directorate, and the Night Vision and Electronics Sensors Directorate from the Communications-Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center. AMRDEC and CERDEC are part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

Through analysis, simulation, ground and flight test, Dellert said the stakeholders on the team are exploring the trade-space involved to assist PEO Aviation in making informed decisions on future material upgrades and potential programs of record. The capstone of the program will be demonstration flights at Yuma Proving Ground in fiscal 2016.

"The AMRDEC Degraded Visual Environment Mitigation Program is oriented toward examining the combinations of technologies required that will give Army rotorcraft pilots the advantage on the battlefield," Dellert said. "In total, this integrated three pronged approach to a Degraded Visual Environment system solution is aimed at increasing air-crew safety and survivability while also helping to provide them every conceivable tactical and operational advantage."

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AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

Page last updated Thu August 15th, 2013 at 00:00