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Helicopter brownout accidents have not been in the news as much of late, particulary as operations have shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan and rugged terrain has replaced desert sand as the principal threat to rotary-wing operations. But it takes time to develop technological solutions, and industry is still perfecting sysems that enable pilots to see through swirling dust, sand and snow - but are small and cheap enough to fit on helicopters.BAE Systems will showcase its Brownout Landing Aid System Technology (BLAST) at next week's DSEi show in the UK, and has posted a video from tests conducted at Yuma Proving Ground in April on an Army UH-1 testbed.Video: BAE SystemsBLAST combines a nose-mounted 94GHz millimeter-wave radar for 3D terrain visualization and obstacle detection, a digital terrain elevation database and the Army's BOSS brownout symbology. Tested in January 2009 on a UH-60 Black Hawk, DARPA's Sandblaster system also used an MMW "see-through" radar sensor, combined with synthetic-vision display imagery and special fly-by-wire flight control laws. The Army has also tested Sierra Nevada's Helicopter Autonomous Landing System (HALS), based on a 94GHz imaging radar, digital terrain database and BOSS symbology. The Air Force Research Laboratory's 3D-LZ system, also tested on a Black Hawk, uses a laser radar, as does Rockwell Collins' LandSafe system, which has been tested on a Marine Corps CH-53E. So there has been a lot of development work, but not a lot of procurement action. Perhaps it's because systems were a bit too heavy and expensive and not quite ready for prime time, so helicopter operators fielded improved hover symbology as a quicker and cheaper - if not complete - answer to the problem. BAE says BLAST is based on off-the-shelf technology and is at TRL 6, ready to enter full-scale development. Darpa's Sandblaster, meanwhile, has morphed into the Multifunction RF program to demonstrate a lighter-weight, three-dimensional, W-band radar for situational awareness, terrain and obstacle avoidance, air-to-air collison avoidance, targeting and fire control as well assee-through sensing for landing in degraded visual environments. Plans call for flight tests in FY2012.
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