NASA has posted images of the modified F-18 systems research aircraft (SRA) used for the on-going external vision system tests. Although these are helping prove that a camera-equipped aircraft with no forward view windows could be a viable option for a future supersonic business jet, the tests are thought to be attracting more than passing interest from the USAF.
The external vision system tests involve Gulfstream Aerospace and are taking place at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, Calif. The SRA’s aft cockpit canopy is shielded with only small cut-outs to represent side windows, while the forward view is taken up with a very large, 22in high-definition (HD) display.
(all pictures: NASA/Tony Landis)
The liquid crystal display, bolted in place over the glareshield, is being used to display an image from an HD camera mounted behind the head-up display in the front cockpit. A safety pilot flies in the front cockpit, ready to assume control if the situation warrants, while the mission is flown from the aft cockpit by a pilot using only instruments and the visual display on the external vision system.
Gulfstream is exploring advanced technology, including cockpit concepts with restricted or zero forward vision, that could be brought together for a future quiet supersonic jet (QSJ). The ‘blind cockpit’ option is a critical area to explore as a Concorde-like drooping nose is unlikely to be a feasible or affordable design option for a quiet-spike equipped QSJ. As similar configuration limitations might apply to manned, or optionally-manned supersonic and hypersonic reconnaissance or strike platforms, the EVS effort is apparently getting interest from the USAF.
Forward vision is provided by an Iconix Video HD camera system with a 5.3mm lens and a 45 deg field of view. The Santa Barbara-based company specializes in small HD systems, providing cameras for on-board sports events such as Nascar motor racing, or hard-to-get angles such as from inside the roulette wheel during the filming of the Hollywood movie Ocean’s Thirteen. The HD camera, measuring around 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches long, is recessed into the F-18 glareshield, and is focused to infinity through the HUD.