Products, Safety

Enhanced-Vision Capability a Priority for US Helo Safety Team

By James T. McKenna | September 8, 2017
Send Feedback


Cpl. Landon Cheek uses his night vision goggles to keep watch out the back of a UH-1Y Venom during night-time cold weather operations aboard Fort Drum, N.Y., March 17, 2017. Marines assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, Marine Aircraft Group 29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, conducted close air support at night with live ordnance to simulate real world operations in a forward position. Cheek is a crew chief with HMLA-269. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Mackenzie Gibson/Released)

Cpl. Landon Cheek uses his night vision goggles to keep watch out the back of a UH-1Y Venom during night-time cold weather operations aboard Fort Drum, New York, March 17. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps

Fostering greater use of enhanced-vision systems in rotorcraft operations is a priority focus of new initiatives being unveiled by the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team.

The industry-government team has developed 22 “measurable safety enhancements” to help cut fatal helicopter accidents in the U.S. from a rate of 1.02 per 100,000 flight hours in 2013 to 0.61 in 2019, which is slightly more than a 40% reduction. (The fatal accident rate reported by the team for 2016, last full-year data, was 0.51.)


To support that goal, the team focused in on 52 fatal accidents from 2009 through 2013 to identify key contributing causes and use that information to propose effective mitigation measures, or what team members call safety enhancements. They completed their work in mid-August.

Last week, the team released broad details of four of the 22 enhancements. Those four are focused on reducing the role of visibility challenges and unintentional encounters with instrument meteorological conditions in fatal accidents.

The team called for action to “research, develop, and promote the use of enhanced helicopter vision systems technologies… to assist in recognizing and preventing unplanned flight into degraded visibility conditions due to weather and to increase safety during planned flight at night.” It said those technologies include night-vision goggles, enhanced and synthetic vision systems and combined vision systems.

That recommendation comes as the FAA's Technical Center is in the midst of collaborative projects with the industry to research potential uses of advanced vision systems for helicopter operations in increasing situational awareness and enhancing safety in both normal and low-visibility conditions.

That research will be one of the topics of discussion at R&WI’s Rotorcraft Business & Technology Summit Sept. 20 and 21 in Fort Worth, Texas. A limited number of seats are still available for that event.

The U.S. team also called for action to “develop and promote recommended practices for pilot and non-flying crewmembers” to detect increased risk levels during the course of a flight, effectively communicate the increased risk level to each other and make a decision on the appropriate risk mitigation.

It called on the industry and the FAA to “develop best practices for, and promote the teaching of, threat and error management as part of initial and recurrent pilot training" and to “develop training for recognition of spatial disorientation and recovery to controlled flight.” That training should “emphasize the use of all available resources installed on the aircraft, including automation such as increased use of autopilot.”

The U.S. team in the coming weeks plans to release additional details on its remaining 18 safety enhancements. It said seven of those are focused on safety management, while six target development of competency in flying skills and five address loss-of-control risk mitigation.

The team added that it would concentrate initially on applying the safety enhancements to personal and private flying and to air ambulance, commercial and aerial application operations.

Receive the latest rotorcraft news right to your inbox