Army Black Hawk spotted with new sensor that sees what pilots can’t

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A US Army medical evacuation helicopter recently participating in a joint exercise in Romania was seen with a new nose-mounted device that helps pilots see through clouds of dust to land safely security and locate wounded soldiers on the ground.

As seen in the photo at the top of this article, the HH-60M is equipped with the Degraded Visual Environment Piloting System, or DVEPS, which is the highest forward-facing sensor on the nose of the aircraft. . A black gimbal underneath that houses a MEDEVAC mission sensor, which is a forward-facing infrared (FLIR) sensor turret. Together, the sensors are intended to help pilots fly through clouds of dust, sand, snow and fog, collectively called degraded visual environments, as detailed in the Aviation Center video below. and missiles from the US Army’s Combat Development Command (DEVCOM).

DVEPS is a situational awareness system equipped with a light detection and ranging sensor, or LIDAR sensor, and long-wave infrared cameras coupled to a terrain database that provides pilots with a synthetic view of the world outside the aircraft through their helmet-mounted displays and cockpit displays. It provides 3D images of the ground and surrounding area through clouds of dust and sand that are often kicked up by a helicopter’s rotor wash when landing. These conditions, called brownout, can blind pilots to their altitude above the ground and attitude, as well as dangerous nearby obstacles such as buildings, power lines, and vehicles.

Degraded Visual Environments (DVEs) are a major challenge for rotorcraft pilots who must accurately gauge their height above the ground and keep an eye out for nearby hazards when landing in austere, sometimes tight locations between buildings, in wooded areas or on uneven ground. Medical evacuation helicopters regularly fly into dangerous conditions to rescue injured soldiers. They very rarely have the luxury of waiting for better weather conditions to take off or choosing ideal, unobstructed landing areas. DVE conditions also disrupt a helicopter crew’s view of enemy troops around a landing zone.

The Army defines DVE as “reduced visibility of potentially varying degree, in which situational awareness and control of the aircraft cannot be maintained as completely as under normal visual weather conditions and can potentially be lost” , according to DEVCOM. As visibility around a helicopter deteriorates, “air operations become more dangerous, less efficient, and often impossible or deadly.”

EVD can be caused by aircraft, but can also be environmental. Smoke from nearby fires, fog, snow, rain, and smog, among other environmental factors, can produce DVE conditions in which it becomes inherently more difficult and dangerous to fly.

The distinctive shape of the DVEPS sensor assembly can be seen mounted on the nose of this HH-60 MEDEVAC. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Taylor Criswell

“The system also provides an image of the LZ to help identify patient location and obstacles to patient extraction quickly and safely,” an Army Aviation spokesperson said. The war zone. Although it is referred to as a “steering” system, it is currently not intended to fly the aircraft with any level of autonomy, but rather to provide vital situational awareness information to human pilots, said the army spokesman.

DVEPS were installed on 15 Army HH-60Ms in 2021 and they are now forward deployed to support emergency operations, the spokesperson said. The helicopter seen in Romania was taking part in personnel recovery training with the British 140th Air Expeditionary Wing on July 12, according to captions accompanying the photos posted on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) website. the United States. Luckily, the crew in Romania practice recovering wounded soldiers on a bright, sunny day in Eastern Europe, when the DVEPS sensor suite is of less immediate use. That’s not always the case, as army rotorcraft pilots have learned to land well in the dusty deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly 20 years.

A UH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopter, without DVEPS, lands in brownout conditions. U.S. Army photo by Major Allen Hill

The DVEPS system was developed by Sierra Nevada Corp. under a contract awarded by the Army and United States Special Operations Command to provide pilots with a multi-sensor suite to help them maintain spatial awareness under DVE conditions. Brownouts and other situations in which pilots lose visual contact with their surroundings are a leading cause of accidents for military and civilian aircraft. SNC’s DVE technology also provides terrain and obstacle detection, including cable and wire detection, in limited visibility conditions.

“DVEPS today provides a leap forward capability for enhanced situational awareness and forms the basis for a gradual growth path to much greater capability such as piloting or supervised autonomy,” said Greg Cox, executive vice president of SNC’s electronics and information systems business. , said in 2015.

Rockwell Collins, now Collins Aerospace, also developed a DVE piloting system for SOCOM as of 2013 that is compatible with the existing common avionics architecture system of MH-47G and MH-60M helicopters. This system incorporates a Synthetic Vision Avionics Core (SVAB) system, which merges 3D imagery with lightweight DVE sensors, including millimeter wave radar or LIDAR.

SOCOM’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), nicknamed the Night Stalkers, first demonstrated a DVEPS system on an MH-60M in 2020 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. 160th officials said at the time that they “hope the technology fielded in special operations aircraft will one day be used throughout the Army aviation enterprise to improve survivability. and provide a better visual picture for pilots and crews operating in austere environments.” The system is mounted differently on the MH-60M, which you can see in the photo below, because its components must face the helicopter’s terrain-following radar for space.

The DVEPS on the nose of a special ops MH-60M, with the components split and mounted below the large central radar. The American army

Rockwell’s system, like other companies’ DVEPS, produces fused 3D imagery, along with enhanced cockpit symbology providing pilots with a view of their surroundings and visually overlaid flight guidance for en-route phases of flight, approach and hover.

Elbit Systems produces a similar DVE system called Brightnite. The video below is an excellent explainer of how the system works and the benefits it offers to crews flying at night and in environments with restricted spatial awareness.

DVE mitigation technologies aim to both make flying in these environments safer and turn them into a tactical advantage in which U.S. Airmen can continue to operate with confidence, according to DEVCOM.

“The goal is to convert DVE into a combat multiplier by creating an advanced capability,” DEVCOM states in its published explanation of DVE mitigation efforts. “This will allow commanders to conduct deliberate DVE operations with confidence that their crews will be safe and their missions will be successful.”

An Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk is engulfed in a cloud of sand and dust during brownout training. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Paul Labbe

Sierra Nevada Corp. specifically touts its system’s applicability to future, faster vertical-lift aircraft the military is developing.

Being able to see out of the aircraft and detect obstacles will become even more important when the military introduces the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) family of advanced rotorcraft. The Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) which will replace at least some of the UH-60 Black Hawks in inventory and the Future Attack Recon Aircraft (FARA) which will take on an armed scout role, will fly low and fast. in contested environments to avoid enemy air defenses. For rotorcraft designed to fly at 200 knots or more at very low altitude, obstacle and terrain sensing equipment will be very relevant technologies.

Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com

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