Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Night Vision and Safety
Usually I try to come up with a central theme for my column, so that I sound somewhat coherent. An overriding thought has eluded me this month, so look out for the flying fragments. In the past few weeks I have spoken to several friends that are involved with maintaining existing night vision imaging systems (NVIS) or providing modifications to aircraft to allow flight with night vision goggles (NVGs). These conversations have raised my awareness that the FAA has started a program of enhanced attention aimed at operators with NVIS-equipped aircraft. The areas of attention include the operators continued airworthiness programs, their adherence to the applicable STCs—requiring each operator to have the appropriate drawings to cover the NVIS system as installed—and testing for light leakage in the systems.
Most of my exercise over the last several years has been jumping to conclusions about the dark side of the FAA. That said, after a good 20-minute aerobic workout I realized that this might be more than the FAA being the FAA. Many of my peers and I that traveled the NVG road with the FAA in the late 90s have a substantial prejudice about how the agency handled the whole issue of NVG from the get go. But that is really a subject better discussed in the HAI bar in the wee hours. That old prejudice could cause programs with NVGs in use today from seeing the correctness of the FAA’s interest in this area. When first considered, these issues seemed to be so much esoteric legalese, another way of saying bovine output.
This time, though the FAA has a very important point, the normal flow of component overhaul, replacement of items in your cockpit and normal wear and tear on filters can degrade the efficiency of your NVIS system. Furthermore neither your eyes nor your goggles will tell you if you have a problem. Proper testing requires specific meters to be employed. Hoffman Instruments makes such a meter and the parties I spoke with are impressed with its capability. The short answer to this is that if you do have light leaks, your goggles will automatically dim to compensate and your system’s efficiency in very low light situations will be degraded—exactly when you need them to be at their best. If you operate public aircraft only and haven’t been contacted about this issue, I’d suggest you look into it.
The NTSB is planning to hold a meeting to address public aircraft safety on November 30 and December 1 in Washington, D.C. This is an issue that I’ve written about before. I will remind you that at present all accidents—whether they occur in a government owned and operated aircraft or an aircraft that is owned operated and maintained by a private entity and then leased to a governmental agency—are recorded as public aircraft accidents. I continue to believe that these accidents should be separated and tracked independently. If, as the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) has suggested, operational safety culture is the true underlying causal factor of accidents, then trying to associate these two very diverse groups is a disservice to both. I hope to attend this meeting and suggest that this anomaly be corrected. I would hope that others would see this as an appropriate action from the NTSB.
On September 30, HAI President Matt Zuccaro wrote an editorial on the HAI website suggesting that the helicopter industry is not well served by the reality that most primary flight instructor pilots have very little real-world experience. Zuccaro is certainly not denigrating the effort or integrity of these individuals. These instructors are pursuing the path that is open to them to advance their career as helicopter pilots. Zuccaro asked for suggestions on how this reality might be modified, I have the following suggestion. HAI could start a program of interested flight schools and operators that require co-pilots. The flight schools would nominate currently employed CFIs with 500 hours of helicopter time to HAI. The nomination would then be forwarded by the HAI to the cooperating operators. The operators based on their need for co-pilots would offer a limited time position to an applicant pilot.
Once the pilot has flown the predetermined number of hours or months for the operator as a co-pilot he would return to his original flight school. Yes, lots of tweaking to this idea would be needed to ensure a workable system for all involved.