A Marine Corps MV-22 demonstrates brownout conditions
during testing at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, AZ.
Photo: Photo by Walt Harrington
5/9/2007 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, FL -- The Air Force Research
Laboratory Rapid Reaction Team has successfully integrated and
tested a science and technology solution to the Air Force Special
Operation Command helicopter brownout problem.
In late 2005, Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, AFSOC commander, asked
the AFRL commander to find a solution to a problem that is killing
his Airmen -- rotary wing brownouts.
More than 30 AFSOC rotary wing aircraft and 60 servicemembers
have lost their lives due to reduced visibility conditions during
landing in desert environments. Many of the aircraft losses
have been attributed to a condition that helicopter pilots refer
to as "brownout."
"Brownout conditions occur during landing and take-offs
from sand or dirt. The sand and dirt is blown up off the ground
and blinds the helicopter pilots to the surrounding area, much
like being in a whiteout during a blizzard," said Eric
Werkowitz, the effort's program manager who is from the Munitions
In less than five months from his request, the team had begun
flying a system on a commercial helicopter.
Scientists and engineers at AFRL worked with Applied Minds,
Inc. to develop a short-term prototype "see and remember"
system which will reduce aircraft accidents resulting from the
loss of visual cues during take-off and landings in dusty conditions.
This science and technology solution, known as Photographic
Landing Augmentation System for Helicopters, or "PhLASH"
for short, is a combination of an electro-optical sensor and
infrared strobe lights which images and geo-registers (matches
the image to a coordinate on the earth's surface) the ground
prior to landing in brownout conditions.
"During the final approach, but before entering brownout,
the system captures a series of high resolution digital still
images of a landing area, and transforms the images in real-time
based on the subsequent flight path of the helicopter,"
Werkowitz said. "The result is a video-like display of
the landing area and nearby obstacles, along with symbology
indicating the current position of the helicopter. The display
will not reflect changes to the landing zone after the most
recent photo (before brownout is encountered) until landing,
but in most cases this time span will be less than 20 seconds."
"We call the concept 'See and Remember'" he said.
AFRL recently completed development testing and operational
testing of the system on a MH-53 helicopter. The next phase
of PhLASH program is integration on operational helicopters.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense selected the PhLASH system
for $1.75 milllion of Quick Reaction Funding to develop a ruggedized
system suitable for permanent installation.
Source: USAF/Eglin AFB Press Release by Rex Swenson