Helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft has tapped Honeywell to develop synthetic-vision technology for Black Hawk pilots landing in brownout conditions. The $6.9 million contract is part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) so-called Sandblaster program.
Honeywell engineers will spend 18 months designing and demonstrating a new type of synthetic-vision system in the Black Hawk. The technology will integrate radar-based sensor information with terrain and obstacle data to provide a highly detailed 3-D graphical view of the landing area on the cockpit primary flight displays. Special symbology will allow pilots to land in any visibility conditions, including brownouts caused by blowing sand, without reliance on outside reference points.
The Sandblaster project is intended to give the U.S. military zero-visibility brownout landing capability, a persistent problem for helicopter crews in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The synthetic-vision system will include cockpit warnings of lateral, fore and aft drift, of sloping or uneven terrain in the landing zone and of potential collisions with other nearby aircraft and buildings, according to DARPA.
Sikorsky recently received a $10.3 million payment as part of a $16.6 million overall contract for support of the Sandblaster program. The bulk of testing, soon to get under way in Arlington, Virginia, is expected to be complete by September 2008.
On the civil side, Honeywell is also involved in a project with business jet maker Gulfstream to bring a database-derived synthetic-vision system to airplanes and announced in March that has begun exploring similar technology for civilian helicopters. These systems will use terrain and obstacle databases and GPS-derived position, but not the radar sensor component that will be tested for the Black Hawk.