PEO Aviation’s Apache Sensors Product Office in coordination with Redstone Test Center, the Future Vertical Lift-Cross Functional Team, and a commercial vendor, successfully executed flight demonstrations July 13 through Aug. 4 at Redstone Airfield, to display the next possible generation of helicopter cockpit technology.
To showcase this technology Apache Sensors hosted more than 30 dignitaries representing 23 different Army organizations and key aviation industry partners July 28 for a capability demonstration featuring a binocular color high definition see-thru helmet mounted display with an AH-64E Version 6 Apache attack helicopter. As part of the event all participants were provided the opportunity to view video and data collected during demonstration flights. They also asked questions and engaged with the system developer as well as test and line pilots who had flown the system, and also wear the helmet while in the front cockpit of the Apache aircraft.
Originally developed for advanced fighter aircraft, the capability is now being adapted to potentially meet the needs of currently fielded and future rotary aircraft. The system demonstrated is a prototype 61-degree display considered to possibly replace the AH-64E Improved Helmet and Display Sight System. It is also a viable option for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (programs.
The event consisted of 23 flights on an AH-64E Version 6 Apache attack helicopter totaling 29.9 flight hours. The flights were conducted by 17 pilots the RTC, 101st Airborne Division, and the Army Capability Management-Recon Attack. The flights included familiarization, evaluation, and survey flights with each pilot providing positive feedback on the demonstrated capability.
The demonstration was the culmination of extensive design and installation efforts followed by ground and flight verifications. After months of planning and scheduling by Apache Sensors, the original equipment manufacturer and RTC instrumentation engineers conducted a survey of the test aircraft to facilitate the design for a custom federated installation. The survey identified space in the avionic bays, and cockpit to accommodate the enhanced system. Mockups of the components were then designed for a virtual fit followed by fabrication for installation to ensure proper fit check. With the mockups installed, the required cabling was designed and manufactured. The final installation was accomplished over the course of two weeks. Test and integration required an additional two weeks and a week of ground verifications followed by a cycle of Fly-Fix-Fly to optimize the display of video and information.
For four weeks, day and night flight missions were conducted, successfully achieving several goals including: the exhibition of a candidate system to meet objective requirements for a high-definition, binocular see-thru HMD; Improved Lethality and Survivability of the aircraft; present an HMD as a potential solution for FVL programs; obtain input, recommendations and consideration of use from active Army pilots participating in the flight demonstration; demonstrate Picture in Picture application benefits for advanced attack helicopter applications/targeting; demonstrate the capability to provide a crew tailorable combination of flight and targeting symbology, overlaid with fused sensor (Day/EO/IR) for enhanced situational awareness; conduct a 30mm gun live fire to demonstrate improved lethality and survivability the aircraft.
With this technology pilots are not limited by the boundaries of the cockpit since a vast view around and below the aircraft is provided. Visual obstacles are reduced, improving safety, pilot efficiency, combat survivability, and pilot workload is reduced – all which aid in protecting the pilot and help improve mission effectiveness. The system’s 61-degree field of view allows the pilot to observe the full 52 degrees of blended Gen 2 Pilot Night Vision System video. The aircraft conformal 2D, and 3D symbology, video masking, picture-in-picture video, synthetic world symbology and the visual Display and Sight sensor can be viewed through the 61-degree field of view with low latency line of sight for 3D symbology and augmented reality.
The HMD provides critical information straight to the warfighters’ eyes, which is particularly important for low-level combat operations where there is little margin for error. Three dimensional conformal and Synthetic Vision Symbology, plus fused sensor data with tactical flight and mission data, are presented onto a wide field-of-view display in a “transparent cockpit” format.
Future fighting from the cockpit will become more complex, especially considering the massive amount of information future aviators will need to consume from on-board and off-platform sensors. Information must be considered by the aviator during missions to avoid threats and decisively engage targets as task complexity increases when additional sensors are introduced into the mission. This new technology will expand the pilot’s capabilities and at the same time reduce the overall task complexity.
While the demonstration was not intended to be a pass-fail test event for the system, the advanced cockpit technology demonstration was considered a great success and a tribute to the skill and hours invested by ground crews, test pilots from RTC, Aviation Flight Test Directorate, the PM Apache Sensors office, FVL CFT, and the OEM.