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FAA to Study Enhanced Vision for Helicopter Operations

By S.L. Fuller | July 13, 2017

Video image displayed on a Genesys Aerosystems IDU680 provides unprecedented level of situational awareness and safety

Video image displayed on a Genesys Aerosystems IDU680 provides unprecedented level of situational awareness and safety. Photo: Astronics Corp.

Astronics Corp. subsidiary Astronics Max-Viz is teaming up with the FAA to research operational concepts for the use of enhanced vision systems in helicopters, Astronics said. The collaboration employs Astronics’ Max-Viz 1500 and Max-Viz 2300 systems for testing onboard an Sikorsky S-76 that the FAA uses for flight testing.

“While [enhanced flight vision systems] rules exist for approaches to runways at airports, comparable regulations for [enhanced flight vision systems] do not exist for helicopters flying to onshore or offshore helipads at heliports,” the company said.

The hope for the study is to develop a basis for possible application of these systems. Astronics is lending the use of its Max-Viz 2300 and Max—Viz 1500 systems. The Max-Viz 1500 sensor would be used for baseline testing, followed by the installation of Max-Viz 2300. The latter would be used for observation of LED lighting, Astronics said.

The FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center is host to the vision system tests, located at the Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey. Astronics said that results of the study are to be used by the FAA to assess effectiveness of enhanced vision for flight safety and operational effectiveness in helicopters.

Astronics describes Max-Viz 2300 as an enhanced vision system featuring a multi-spectral imager, which blends the separate signal from a long wave infrared sensor with a visible light sensor. The blended thermal image produced by the sensors is black and white, but the color HD-compatible signal from the visible light camera can be routed to a cabin entertainment system or cockpit display, according to Astronics. It is certificated to RTCA DO-160G standards.

In April, Elbit Systems announced its partnership with the FAA. Multiple Elbit systems were to be tested on the FAA’s S-76. Products might include Heli-ClearVision and subsystems such as the Skylens/SkyVis head-worn display and the HeliEVS, Synthetic Vision System and Combined Vision System. In additional to operational concepts, the assessments would look at characterizing sensor criteria for maintaining visual references/cues during the visual segments of instrument approach procedures and enhancing visual flight rules (VFR) operations.

The FAA issued a final rule, in December 2016, for the use of enhanced vision systems in fixed wing cockpits for pilots flying Parts 121, 125 and 135 certificated aircraft. It permits pilots to, instead of using natural vision, use enhanced vision to continue descending from 100 feet above the touchdown zone elevation (TDZE) to the runway and to land on certain straight-in instrument approach procedure (IAP) under instrument flight rules (IFR). The rule became effective March 13.

In summarizing the final rule on enhanced vision, the FAA stated that it will also address “provisions that permit operators who conduct [enhanced flight vision systems] operations under parts 121, 125, or 135 to use [enhanced flight vision system]-equipped aircraft to dispatch, release, or takeoff under IFR, and revises the regulations for those operators to initiate and continue an approach, when the destination airport weather is below authorized visibility minimums for the runway of intended landing.”

Operators looking to use enhanced vision system technology for the newly authorized landing procedures are subject to “additional airworthiness requirements” that the FAA did not specify within its summary of the new rule.

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