Rotorcraft Report: Device Sees Through Brownout

By Staff Writer | June 1, 2009
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Brownouts will hold considerably less terror for helicopter pilots, thanks to the successful trials of an augmented "visionics" system developed by CAE and Neptec Design Group. The CAE/Neptec system allows pilots to see obstacles in landing zones despite brownout conditions. The principle was recently proven during a series of fixed tests at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. Airborne tests are pending.

The system works by combining Neptec’s Obscurant Penetrating Autosynchronous LIDAR (OPAL) sensor with CAE’s Augmented Visionics System (AVS). Using 3D visual databases of the landing zone — the kind used in CAE flight simulators — the OPAL system’s LIDAR can accurately detect the size and relative location of obstacles within the zone.

This data is then integrated with CAE’s common database and the resulting 3D synthetic image is seen either in a pilot’s heads-up or heads-down display. Although the pilot can’t tell if the shape in his synthetic vision is a Hummer specifically, he can see its size and shape well enough to know that it has to be avoided.


The fixed test of the system was proved by mounting a fixed OPAL/AVS unit within a shed, then having a UH-1 hover nearby to cause a brownout. According to CAE and Neptec, the OPAL/AVS system could detect and display obstacles through blowing sand. Items detected included rocks, bushes, sloping terrain, utility poles, ground vehicles, and wires at distances greater than 656 feet.

"Given our use of 3D synthetic vision in our simulators, it made sense for CAE to see how we could extend this technology into the real world," said Adolfo Klassen, CAE’s chief technology officer. Klassen expects this product to achieve Level 6 maturity by year’s end, and to be ready for sale commercially "in the next 12 to 18 months."

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