Posted 13 years 72 days ago ago by Admin
Night Flight Concepts Takes Mystery Out of NVG's!
Article, photos, and video by Lyn Burks
If you are a current or former Military Pilot, odds are good that you have been exposed to Night Vision Goggle (NVG) operations. However, to their civilian trained counterparts, the concepts of NVG operations are both unfamiliar and somewhat mysterious. Even more difficult, suppose you are a civilian helicopter operator who needs to take the entire helicopter fleet and make it NVG operational? Aircraft modifications, equipment purchases, crew training, equipment inspections and service…..where do you start?
Answer: Civilian Helicopter Industry, meet Night Flight Concepts! Night Flight Concepts (NFC) is a company who brings its past military NVG experience to the civilian table in turn key fashion. A one stop NVG shop so to speak.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in an NVG Training Course provided by Night Flight Concepts which was presented to the Broward County Sherriff’s Office (BCSO) Aviation Unit. BCSO operates three different helicopters (EC130, EC135, AS350) in both Law Enforcement and EMS missions. This training was the first introduction of NVG’s to the BCSO mission profile so it was a perfect opportunity to seen how Night Flight Concepts introduces NVG’s to helicopter operators.
Before we look at Night Flight Concepts, let’s cover a few high points about NVG technology. First, night vision devices (NVD’s) are not new technology by any stretch of the imagination. I was shocked to learn that the U.S. was not the first to “own the night”. The first night vision devices were actually developed by the Germans in the mid 1930’s for the German Army. The US Military did not begin using NVD’s until WWII and more broadly until the Vietnam War.
So how do they work? In a nutshell, very small amounts of light enter the NVG through the front of the device called the objective lens. These light particles then make their way through a four part component called the image intensifier tube or ITT. Within the ITT is where the small amount of light taken in is amplified up to 11,000x and converted to a green electrical image. This amplified electrical image is then displayed to the pilot on the eyepiece lens.
So enough about NVG’s, let’s focus on Night Flight Concepts. As a result of a recent run of Helicopter EMS (HEMS) accidents, NVG’s have just recently exploded onto the scene for the civilian helicopter industry as a new tool for night operations. Whether great planning or pure luck, the company’s timing and position in the market could not be better. Interestingly enough, the company was conceived a few years ago by owner/partner Adam Aldous while sitting on a bunk in Iraq after just completing a long night helicopter mission.
Even though most of my time was spent in training with NFC, it should be noted that they are NOT just an NVG training company. NFC is a turnkey solution for operators who would like to, or need to; take their operation into the realm of NVG ops. Typical clients would be Law Enforcement and Helicopter EMS. Outside of pilot training, NFC services include:
· Operational Integration
· Maintenance Tech Training
· Crew Training
As a side point, I could not help but notice of the emphasis NFC placed on surrounding themselves with top notch people in the form of synergistic partnerships. Partnerships which include Palm Beach Helicopters, Night Readiness LLC, Hoffman Engineering, and Nivisys Industries just to name a few..
The training provided by NFC was delivered in two distinct steps which included ground and flight. I was not surprised by the flight training offered by NFC. My superior deductive reasoning skills told me that we would be strapping goggled helmets to our bodies and then strapping our bodies to the helicopter and plunging into the darkness of the Everglades swamps west of East Coast Florida. I was however very much surprised at how they go about administering their classroom training.
Sure they cover all of the expected academic topics like equipment familiarization, night flying operations, and night physiology. However, to this pilot, where they knocked the ball out of the park is when they broke out the “VTB”. So what’s the VTB you ask?
The VTB, also known as a “Virtual Terrain Board”, is a powerful training tool comprised of a large black projection board, a very powerful projector and a high performance computer. The VTB allows the NVG students to don their helmets and nvg’s in the safety and comfort of the air conditioned and coffee supplied classroom, while the instructors run them through a very realistic set of complex scenarios. These scenarios include all types of terrain contrasts both man made and natural, as well as every type of lighting condition (man made or natural) that a pilot might experience. I was totally amazed at how what we saw in the classroom exactly matched what we would end up seeing in the cockpit under real conditions!
Training for the Regular Joe (or Jolene)
NFC was full of surprises as I got to know them a little better. For example, what if you are not currently an EMS or Law Enforcement Pilot, but you would like to become NVG qualified on your own so that you may be more competitive in future job markets? As it turns out, NFC (and Palm Beach Helicopters) operate the only STC’d, NVG equipped Robinson R44 helicopter in the US. They run regularly scheduled classes for individual pilots who wish to become NVG trained and qualified. I had the opportunity to fly the NVG equipped R44 and was pleased at how natural and intuitive it felt to fly in the darkness under the goggles.
Every decade it seems the helicopter industry is faced with a new operational problem. We seem to constantly have to keep adapting and reinventing ourselves for the time and conditions we operate. We are always integrating new tools in an effort to be safer and “do it better”. Given that NVG’s are the new tool of our time, such is the case of Night Flight Concepts and the Broward County Sherriff’s Aviation Unit who are “doing it better”.
Sgt. Dale Owens of BCSO summed it up when he said, “This technology will greatly increase our ability to perform searches and missions in areas of desolation and darkness such as the Florida Everglades and offshore where visibility and lighting is extremely limited. Previously our field of vision was limited to a small disc of illumination created by our night sun spotlight, which made searches akin to that of a “needle in a haystack”. Additionally, incidences involving inadvertent loss of horizon during night ops will be greatly reduced securing a safety of flight scenario.”
Problem: Really dark, can’t fly.
Solution: Night Vision Goggles and Night Flight Concepts.
The helicopter industry has become a survivalist and has mastered the art of “overcome and adapt!”
4 Part Video Series on Night Flight Concepts and NVG Training