YUMA, Ariz. -- When people ask Chris Insco what he does, his answer is, "I basically stop time."
Insco, Yuma Proving Ground's High-speed Section Chief, goes on to explain, "Our cameras and the high-speed process we use range from 1,000 frames per second (fps) up to 10,000 fps but these cameras have the ability to take up to one-million fps which is basically a camera taking a million frames in one second."
Watching the video captured by the high-speed section is like a scene of the Matrix movie, you can see each and every twist and turn the projectile makes. These cameras are so rapid you can see sound moving through the air, they can capture a sound wave in a photograph.
"We slow things down for the customer to allow them to see what they cannot see with the naked eye" says Insco.
Capturing the high-speed video for a test at Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) entails a lot more than simply setting up a camera and walking away. The technology behind these ultrahigh-speed video cameras demands an entire network to run their programs and entails detailed planning and setup. Weeks before a test the crew talk the test officer (TO) to better understand the needs of the customer. From there the senior technicians plan the logistics, this includes deciding on the type of camera, working with Geodetics for assistance with camera placement and setting up generators to keep the cameras running.
Then comes the networking of the cameras which are ran on a local area network. High-speed technicians work with Network Enterprise Center (NEC) range communication to confirm if the test location on the Cibola or Kofa side of the range has the network capability required to run their computer systems. Depending on the location the high-speed technicians will set up the network other times NEC will set up the network.
The coverage of video depends of the type of test, some of the camera angles include, behind the gun, muzzle exit, and impact. Insco explains, "Sometimes it is gun coverage, sometimes it is impact coverage. With the impact coverage it depends on what the TO wants. We had one test where they had 10 different scenarios. As soon as they fired one we had to pick up all that equipment and move it to another scenario." Adding "It's a lot of logistics that our senior technicians learn through experience and time out here."
A test requiring high-speed video coverage can require anywhere from two to nine technicians "One of our largest test, I think we had 20 camera systems on one test."
One high-speed system popular with the TO is the trajectory tracker, "Those can cover from the end of the muzzle to out to usually it is 100-meters but we have tracked them out to 200-meters at time" explains Insco.
The trajectory tracker uses an algorithm to capture the projectile in motion. The high-speed technician will input coordinates and other information given by the TO into the computer software which controls the tracker and a mirror. When a round is fired, the mirror moves and the camera captures images from the mirror. Using the trajectory tracker is equivalent to using 10 cameras.
Another angle is static and moving impacts, "Target systems sets up a tank that is remote controlled and we actually chase it with pan and tilts that we control from a remote location. We can actually follow the vehicle through that course."
Behind each camera set up on a test, is a high-speed technician who is monitoring it via a live video feed shown on a camera controller (lab top) from inside a support test vehicle.
Sean Mynster, high-speed video test lead and Steven Mowery, high-speed technician were recently on a test. They monitored the test site and communicated with the TO via hand-held radios to ensure they captured the firing of the projectile.
Mowery explains, "This is the software that operates the camera, we can adjust our shutter, our resolution, our frame rate, it is also the software that arms the camera. We arm-up about 10 seconds out. When we do arm them up, they run on a loop recording so we will have pre and post frames. We will have 200 frames before and 200 frames after that way if a mishap happens and we have an early trigger we will capture it."
Mishaps do happen because YPG is a testing center, and Insco says that's when their video become most important, "We can shoot thousands of mortars a day, and if everything is good we just archive it. But we will have that one where a fuze will pop-off, or the round malfunctions outside of the tube and we capture it on video that's when the customers get really excited about what we capture."