Magazine article National Defense

Simulator Eases Night-Vision Goggle Dangers

Magazine article National Defense

Simulator Eases Night-Vision Goggle Dangers

Article excerpt

In the surreal world of amplified light, things aren't as they appear. That's why a new simulator for fighter pilots will ease the dangers of training with night-vision goggles.

Instructors said the simulator will enable them to teach pilots on the ground, in an environment where violating safety procedures doesn't have such profound consequences.

"It's totally a safety issue," said Maj. Jonathan Beasley, an instructor pilot with the 56th Training Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. "If you look at all the mishaps we've had in fighters using goggles, almost all of them were caused by reliance on some type of visual cue that you're not supposed to be relying on with night-vision devices."

During the initial few rides, pilots often are uncomfortable and disoriented, noted Maj. Jeff Johnson, an instructor pilot with the 310th Fighter Squadron. "It's a different perception that messes with their equilibrium."

Currently undergoing testing at Luke, the night-vision goggle simulator is fitted to existing F-16 flight simulators. It consists of goggles, software, a connecting cable to the flight simulator and cranial movement tracker to record a pilot's helmet motion and to present the proper visual cues. The simulator goggles have the same weight and feel as their cockpit counterparts.

The system is designed to work with all three F-16 flight simulators used at Luke, including the unit training device, re-hosted weapons system trainer, and the networked training center.

The simulator does a good job of visualizing the night sky, asserted Beasley, who also serves as program manager for the networked training center. "If you flip the goggles up and take a look around, it's just as if you were flying around at night, as a typical basic course student does before he goes into night-vision goggles training."

The system is aimed at students who are taking their initial night vision training. During the three to four week course, students fly five training sorties where they practice night formation flying as wingmen. Previously, there was only one night vision simulator--a simple system that only taught them how to don and remove goggles in a dark cockpit.

But actually flying with goggles is an acquired habit. Their most dangerous idiosyncrasies are a lack of peripheral vision and a circular field of view that is limited to only 40 degrees. "You don't have any depth perception," said Beasley. "A light three miles away and a light 50 miles away looks the same through goggles. It's harder to fly formation and figure out how far away you are from the other planes."

Those visual miscues mean pilots must be taught to rely on instrument crosscheck, which mandates constantly scanning their instruments and trusting the data even when their senses tell them otherwise. Johnson, who has used the simulator extensively, said the system greatly helps teach this vital skill.

"What it does best is take away your peripheral vision," Johnson said. "Normally, in the daytime, your peripheral vision sees the horizon and it automatically knows which way is up. When you put the goggles on, it takes that away. Now it's like you're looking through a soda straw. And to take all that information into your brain, you have to move your head around quite a bit. It takes students a few rides to get the hang of it."

Night-vision flight trainees must have a safety pilot with them in case they get disoriented during flight. The simulator enables them to practice more safely and cheaply. "The biggest benefit of the sim is to develop that instrument cross check on the ground when you're not burning time and gas," Johnson said. "When you get the student in the air, his cross check is a lot more efficient."

Proficiency in using night-vision goggles is no luxury. They have become a routine part of night flights, used during most operations except for take off, landing and aerial refueling. …

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