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Friday, June 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Pentagon, Companies Focus on Finding Brownout Solutions

MILITARY

Sikorsky Aircraft has won a $16.6-million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to help solve one of the military’s more pressing problems in fighting desert wars: landing helicopters and taking off safely when blinding sandstorms obscure the landscape and create "brownout" conditions.

DARPA awarded the contract under its Sandblaster program, a high-priority effort to develop and demonstrate effective solutions for landing in degraded visual environments.

Sikorsky is teamed with Honeywell and Sierra Nevada Corp., with Sikorsky as the prime and lead system integrator. Honeywell will design and produce a Sensor data-driven, Localized, External, Evidential Knowledge base (SLEEK) capability integrated with the company’s synthetic-vision system.

Sierra Nevada Corp. will provide see-through sensing technologies.

Sandblaster initially will focus on Black Hawks. Project completion is expected within 18 months.

In a related development, Lockheed Martin is demonstrating a state-of-the-art pilotage sensor for cargo and utility aircraft. It is working with the support of the U.S. Army’s Night-Vision Laboratory at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The pilotage sensor, which Lockheed Martin calls Pathfinder, leverages existing, proven technology from Lockheed Martin’s Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night-Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS) system deployed on the AH-64D Apache.

Pathfinder is a low-risk, best-value pilotage system for safe flight operations, the company said, adding that it significantly increases situational awareness and reduces pilot workload through a head-up, eyes-out helmet-mounted display. Lockheed Martin is demonstrating it on an Army Bell Helicopter UH-1H.

"The Pathfinder system offers an immediate, positive impact to aircraft safety and provides an outstanding pilotage solution that works even when night-vision goggles cannot," said Bob Gunning, director of Apache Programs at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

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