HAI Convention News

Sierra Nevada Offers Solution to Degraded Visual Environments

 - January 29, 2020, 9:52 PM

Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC, Booth 38 and 7550) has developed technology that addresses the problems of flight in degraded visual environments (DVE) for both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. In June, Sparks, Nevada-based SNC was awarded a U.S. Air Force contract for system design, development, integration, and test of the Degraded Visual Environment System (DVES) on the USAF HH-60G aircraft.

This system enables pilots to safely take off or land in aircraft-induced brownout and whiteout conditions, allowing them to move past operational limitations and address a challenge that costs the U.S. military in both lives and equipment. Flight testing of DVES is ongoing; the first systems are planned to be delivered to the USAF later this year.

This week at Heli-Expo 2020, SNC is highlighting this innovative product, which has the promise of saving lives and aircraft. The company pointed out that that, during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, 58 percent of helicopter losses and 52 percent of fatalities have been attributed to controlled flight into terrain, wire and object strikes, or hard landings in degraded visual conditions caused by weather and rotor wash when operating over sand, loose dirt, water, and snow.

The DVES technology uses multiple sensors to present pilots with real-time, fused imagery that restores visual flight cues and pilot situational awareness, explained Dean Heitkamp, SNC senior director of business development. “We learned that using different sensors together works very well,” he told AIN.

Heitkamp said SNC discovered that these sensors are millimeter radar, which works well but doesn’t penetrate heavy rain; lidar (light detecting and range sensor), which has very crisp resolution; and a variety of short, medium, and longwave infrared sensors.

SNC will visit a prospective customer’s site to assess the flying environments and mission profiles used by the customer to determine what is required. Heitkamp said he asks questions, such as: “What are the hazards? What do you want to track? What can you afford? What weight can be carried? What is the mission?” This helps the customer choose the sensors that are appropriate for conditions and missions that the aircraft encounters, he said.

DVES can output images to a flight display or helmets and provide alerts about obstacles. Three primary displays used are multi-functional displays, helmet-mounted displays, and head-up displays.

The cost of a DVES varies widely—from $100,000 to nearly $1 million—depending on the size of the aircraft, the mission capabilities needed, and the environment where the operations take place, said Heitkamp.