Seeing Infrared

By By R&WI Staff | July 1, 2015

The industry aims to give the FAA the data needed to determine that IR spotlight installations are safe.
Photo courtesy of Robinson Helicopter Company

Modifications shops, airframe and component makers, and operators are working with a top standards organization to define best practices to ensure the safety of infrared (IR) spotlights.

The goal is to produce a standard that would enable the FAA to sign off on installation of those devices on commercial helicopters. It currently will not do that, officials involved with the work say, because FAA officials say they lack clear data on the safety of the devices’ use on the ground and in the air.


“We’re hoping to have a standard for the FAA to review by year’s end,” said Pete Price, an A&P mechanic and avionics technician for Wysong Enterprises who is leading the work of a subcommittee on the topic at ASTM International.

Formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM is a leader in developing and delivering international voluntary consensus standards.

According to Price, the FAA’s Rotorcraft Directorate asked ASTM’s Committee F39 on Aircraft Systems about six months ago to look into developing a standard for the design and installation of IR-emitting systems. Its Subcommittee F39.04 on Aircraft Systems was tasked with the work.

The marching orders are to come up with a specification for the design, installation, functional requirements, performance requirements and safety of IR devices. The group has been meeting every two weeks by phone.

IR spotlights can be a valuable tool for police aviation units. A helicopter fitted with one can guide ground officers equipped with night-vision goggles to a hiding suspect without tipping the suspect off (since he can’t see the IR beam).

Police units that fly under public service rules don’t require FAA approval to install IR spotlights.

The subcommittee will look at IR-related safety controls, including the safe duration of exposure, beam width, radiant intensity and wavelength to help satisfy the FAA that mechanics and pilots can work around them without risking eye damage. The aviation agency also wants to be confident that IR beams would not harm people on the ground.

The subcommittee’s work also could apply to laser designators for forward-looking IR cameras and lidars used in mapping.

Receive the latest rotorcraft news right to your inbox