Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control has just completed the demonstration of a new piloting aid known as Pathfinder.
Based on the Modernized Pilot Night Vision Sensor used in the AH-64 Apache, the Pathfinder system has been developed for use on transport and utility aircraft, both fixed- and rotary-wing. It uses a long-wave IR seeker offering high-fidelity imagery, with an exceptionally wide field of view of 52 by 30 degrees. The imagery can be shown on a head-up or helmet-mounted display. When used with an HMD, the sensor turret is slaved to the helmet and peers where the pilot is looking. It can also be displayed on a cockpit screen, with a freeze-frame function for more detailed analysis.
Pathfinder is being promoted for tactical fixed-wing aircraft like the Hercules, giving pilots a better low-level night-flying capability than is possible with the current generation of FLIRs. Perhaps more important is its rotary-wing application, giving utility helicopter pilots the kind of spatial awareness in any conditions currently only enjoyed by an few combat crews.
One of the most dangerous conditions experienced by helicopter pilots is brownout, when visibility is obliterated by billowing dust. This occurs in the most crucial phases of flight, when the aircraft is landing or operating at low level. Since it was first fielded in June 2005, the Apache’s M-PNVS, upon which Pathfinder is based, has routinely demonstrated the ability to “see” through the dust and maintain a horizon reference.
Lockheed Martin concluded a demonstration of the Pathfinder to the U.S. Army last week using a modified Huey with helmet-mounted display. It expects to demonstrate the capability again soon. The company is swift to stress that Pathfinder is a piloting aid rather than a targeting system, although some potential customers have signaled a desire for a laser pointer function and the ability to produce geo-coordinates for weapons targeting.