June 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 2 
Special Features

Aviators train their way through blinding storms

Aviators train their way through blinding stormsImagine trying to land an Apache Longbow helicopter in poor visibility, on a shifting landing zone, while under threat of attack.

It’s a daily problem for U.S. Army aviators as they fly in and out of the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their helicopters’ rotating blades stir up sand, creating a blinding storm effect known as a brownout. In addition, the winds alter the ground surface, making it difficult to land the aircraft safely.

It took the Boeing Training Systems and Services team to find an inventive solution.

Part of Integrated Defense Systems’ Aerospace Support business, the TSS organization builds the Apache Longbow Crew Trainer (LCT), flight simulators that Apache Longbow aviators use for mission training.

In creating these full-mission, high-fidelity simulators, the TSS team was accustomed to preparing for the unknown. Now they had to simulate these new brownout conditions, so that when pilots ultimately had to land their rotorcraft they had already experienced many simulated landing and takeoffs, had good situational awareness and knew exactly how to deal with the phenomenon.

“Military forces must be able to adapt quickly to changing threats, strategies, tactics and environments,” says Keith Hertzenberg, TSS vice president. “Similarly, their equipment must be able to incorporate new capabilities quickly. Boeing designed the Longbow crew trainer so that it could be modified with minimal effort.”

A brownout presents aviators with numerous problems. The pilots may become disoriented, landing sideways or at too high a rate of speed. Aviators also may not see dangers, such as bushes on the ground or another aircraft landing close by.

To give aviators the opportunity to train for brownouts, TSS simulated these conditions in the simulator. On the simulator, the team modified two resources used to land the aircraft.

First they modified the pilot’s view out the cockpit window. The TSS team determined how close the aircraft needed to be to the ground for the sand to swirl and obscure the pilot’s view. Then they ensured the simulator depicted the sandstorm at just the right time. Now, when pilots “land” in the simulator, their outside visual becomes increasingly obscure until a total brownout occurs prior to touch down.

Second, the TSS team modified the Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) image, which, in combination with flight data symbology, helps aviators fly at night. To emulate a brownout, TSS had to degrade the FLIR image slowly, just as it would in a brownout, forcing the crew either to rely entirely on flight instrumentation to land or to try another landing.

“To test this, I had to simulate a lot of flying and crashing,” says Dave Hosea, Boeing operations manager for the LCTs deployed in Iraq, and a qualified Army aviator. “We made sure that we ‘crashed’ when we should have and didn’t when we shouldn’t have. The result is that aviators in a simulator can now take off, fly out and land under the same limitations they would face in the aircraft.”

The difference, Hosea notes, is that in the LCT no one gets hurt or damages the aircraft. “Aviators can build confidence in their skills and training, which reduces their stress in the cockpit and allows them to be more effective aviators,” he says.

To date, there are 18 LCTs fielded with the Army throughout the world, including Germany and Korea. The LCTs are built in St. Louis.

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