Night-vision training offered to more pilots

 - May 5, 2008, 11:33 AM

Bowing to demands from an even more security-conscious aviation community, Bell Helicopter is offering the first FAA-approved night-vision-goggle (NVG) training program aimed specifically at commercial helicopter operators. While intended mainly for law-enforcement and aeromedical pilots, Bell has reported response from a wide variety of public-service pilots and private operators interested in becoming conversant in the fly-by-night technology.

The course will be offered through Bell’s in-house flight-training academy and has been certified under Part 141 by the FAA’s Southwest region office based at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. The school will use a Bell 206BIII JetRanger for the in-flight portion of the training, a helicopter fitted with an STC’d low-light LED cockpit illumination system so that the standard levels of cabin lighting don’t interfere with the super-sensitive NVGs. This special lighting installation was developed and installed by Texas Aviation Services (TAS) of Fort Worth. TAS’ low-level lighting installation is currently STC’d only for the 206BIII, though the company said the installation can be fitted into any Model 206 with no need for additional approval. TAS hopes to have the STC’d interior available for sale late this year.

Students and instructors in the new Bell course will use Litton M949 NVGs made by Northrop Grumman’s Electro-Optical Systems of Dallas.

As approved under Part 141, instruction operations require a minimum of two pilots equipped with NVGs to be aboard, along with a helmet with NVG mount and an instrument panel containing a radar altimeter, slip, attitude, vertical speed and heading indicators.

The course, which costs $7,500, includes five days of classroom instruction on the internal functions of NVGs, their limitations and effect on emergency procedures; aeromedical factors; night terrain interpretation; and night-mission planning. Also included (indeed, it is required) are a minimum of 7.5 hr of NVG flight training. Among the night maneuvers will be emergency scenarios and full autorotations to touchdown with the NVGs on.

While Bell’s flight academy is offering the course at its Texas facility, customers also have the option of taking the course at a location of their choosing. Bell conceded that an on-site approach is preferable, since it permits customization to meet the client’s needs.

Bell’s initiation of the training comes amid a burst of civil NVG sales, a bonanza for goggle-makers believed driven by terrorism concerns prompted by post-September 11 jitters. Both civilian operators and the federal government are eagerly buying the night-vision devices, with estimates on federal non-military sales for the coming year running as high as $1 billion.

A market summary prepared by NVG maker ITT Industries, the goggle-maker holding the contract for all U.S. Army aviation, predicts the sales growth will “continue for the next several years.” ITT is also supplying NVGs to ground and air units for the FBI, U.S. Customs, Border Patrol, Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms, Department of Education, USCG, Drug Enforcement Agency and the Office of Narcotics and Drug Control Policy.