Lourie A. DeBoer
Columbia Southern University
Abstract US Army Aviators have incurred over $4 billion dollars in damages as a result of over 400,000 accidents since the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars (Johnson, 2007), and brownout conditions have contributed to the vast majority of them, . The dangerous visibility restriction that occurs due to dust or sand being thrown into the air due to rotor downwash interacting with sediment or sand on the ground during takeoff and landing leaves a pilot unable to see nearby objects and outside visual references. These references are used to control the aircraft and judge the helicopters position near the ground (Key, 1999). Loss of these visual references leads to spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness and causes significant risk of ground obstacle collisions, and dynamic rollover due to sloped and uneven terrain. In order to save lives and limit the damage to aircraft the selection of a sensor/visual display system that can provide visual landing assistance capability during landing and takeoff is imperative. Unfortunately systems are too often purchased and installed in military equipment without the input of the operators, resulting in inadequate solutions and sometimes counterproductive and costly mistakes. The research approach and strategy of this study is to ensure that the Army Aviators who have extensive experience both in this landing profile and in the brownout condition, leverage this experience to narrow the development and purchase to an appropriate system in order to avoid costly later retrofits. Many of the current products being developed lack a Heads-Up display which provides information to the pilot in a see through, helmet mounted ocular device, and which allows the pilot to remain focused outside the aircraft during landing and takeoff. Current projects lean heavily toward utilizing the dashboard mounted display screens which mean the pilot would be required to divide his attention in and out of the cockpit in order to receive landing data. This split attention would occur at the most dangerous moment in the flight profile when the aircraft is low to the ground, in proximity to objects and at slow airspeeds. The use of the display screens is a cheaper and less complicated solution, but bringing the pilots attention into the cockpit and away from the landing sequence may have dangerous results. Tapping into the experience of the pilots who have conducted landings under these conditions, and in various configurations will allow researchers to determine of there is enough cause for concern in adopting any system that does not come with a Heads-Up display option.
Current Situation Blowing dust and sand can give the illusion of a tilted horizon, causing a pilot to instinctively attempt to level the aircraft to align with this ‘false’ horizon, resulting in an aircraft accident. Since 1991, there have been 230 cases of aircraft damage due to unsuccessful take-offs or landings in a brownout condition (Gant, 2007). Brownout accidents cost the United States military close to $100 million dollars annually in Afghanistan and Iraq at the height of the wars. Although they have the highest survivability rates due to the fact that they occur close to the ground and at low airspeeds, there have still been deaths (Colby, 2005). Brownouts have destroyed more helicopters in recent military operations than all other threats combined.
Problem Statement In order to save lives and limit the damage to aircraft, solutions are urgently needed for operating in brownout conditions, which continue to cause deadly helicopter accidents in arid desert terrain. Blinding dust stirred up by the helicopter rotor disk can cause pilots to lose all visual cues, creating a significant safety risk of ground and obstacle collision. In order to mitigate these risks,