Red-eye flight is a common term for night flights, and the term itself tells us that the pilot needs to use some aviation night vision device to improve visibility during the flight. The human eye cannot see well at this time.
So, infrared illumination is often required in addition to aviation night vision devices because if you illuminate your way using an ordinary flashlight, it will inevitably result in a blinding light. That is where special aviation night vision devices could be used. Let’s talk about them.
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What is Night Vision?
Night vision optics include both military and quite civilian applications. It has been successfully employed in aviation for a long period. But we require a little bit of theory. Infrared radiation and Optical Magnification conversion into visible radiation and amplification of low brightness levels the observed object created by the glow of the stars, night sky, and the moon in the near-infrared and visible spectral range – this is the base of night vision.
Aviation night vision devices are split into night vision generations, each more technologically advanced compared to the last.
The tremendous use of aviation night vision devices by ground forces determines the need for tactical aviation to master the night sky to help ground and civilian rescue operations.
The introduction of aviation night vision devices enabled night vision manufacturers to pilot at night. But some problems of coordination of aviation glasses with lighting and especially information equipment of cockpits stay.
The issues are also the protection from external interference sources, like on-board lights of other aircraft, or some background brightness when observing long surfaces using homogeneous reflection coefficients such as snowy plain and water surfaces. It is also difficult to offer to pilot when there is a huge variation in the illumination value.
Types of Night Vision Imaging Systems
When it comes to night vision devices for night operations, we must not forget about the different types of NVDs. For hunting, for instance, it is convenient to take a monocular because it includes a low weight and a good range. For hunting, in addition, night vision scopes would be handy.
Scopes, binoculars, and goggles are your choice if you wish to keep your hands free. Still, are they all relevant for aviation? As it turned out, the most used and useful type of NVDs for aviation are night-vision goggles. They’re designed for viewing the aircraft’s cockpit space at night to enable takeoff, piloting at extremely low altitudes, and successful landing.
If we talk about more serious operations in the air, then other, more complicated devices would help the glasses. And in some instances, if we are talking about night aviation, human presence onboard is not needed.
Aviation Night Vision Imaging Systems
An entire field of aviation night vision imaging systems has been made for night flights. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the homing heads of most aircraft missiles and other munitions also consist of infrared-imaging devices in their components. That means that an aircraft can make a night flight without a pilot.
But there’s no doubt that human senses and skills are always stronger compared to electronics. New systems are kept being developed for this purpose. For example, the optronic surveillance system is used for reconnaissance and patrolling, selecting a landing site for a plane or helicopter.
Monitors are in the passenger and pilot cabins. The operator (workstation located in the passenger cabin) transmits data to the crew regarding the sources of threats detected on the ground.
This system allows:
• record video and photo information;
• transmit the coordinates and characteristics of objects, which makes it possible to perform reconnaissance operations;
• work in light camouflage conditions;
• work at night along with an infra-red searchlight.
The searchlight installed on the helicopter is usually combined with the surveillance system and works in infrared mode. Range: 1,000 yards in normal mode; 1,800 yards in infrared mode.
As stated before, the easiest way to fly at night for pilot night vision is with goggles. That provides a wide view of the space in and out of the cockpit. That enables clear reading of indication systems, maps, and other sources of information when flying and clear recognition of huge and relatively small objects for optimal route building (including assessment of potential hazards like tall buildings, power lines, mountains, and trees.
Glasses could be used for flights at dusk and night, aiming fire from helicopter weapons at relatively low altitudes and also from light aircraft weapons at medium ranges, for operations in an urban environment (flights at low altitudes, bright light sources, high density of buildings) and night search operations over land and water surface. One of the latest aviation creations is the aviation night vision goggles advanced helmet-mounted night vision goggles for army aviation pilots.
Unlike the existing binocular glasses in the U.S. Army today, with a 60-degree horizontal panoramic field of view, the new glasses would allow for a 100-degree horizontal x 40-degree vertical panoramic field of view. Moreover, their resolution is 50% higher than today’s aviation night vision goggles.
Specific Training and Skills for Using NVIS
Is it legal to possess aviation night vision goggles? It is possible only after acquiring a certificate for the right to perform night flights using special devices. And there are various requirements for night vision helicopter equipment – internal and external illumination and availability of radar altimeter.
The crews use NVIS to identify and search moving based on the flight task. Stationary objects, ground targets at various altitudes, and practice search and rescue activities to find vehicles and people in the dark on flat terrain and remote forest locations. Furthermore, pilots perform flights at low altitudes, completely switching off lights and external identification signals.
The primary purpose of such flights is to test the readiness of personnel to execute special and combat missions and practice new tactical maneuvers using full use of an aircraft’s combat capabilities and equipment.
In the United States Army and other branches of the armed forces, much attention is paid to creating simulators and simulation platforms utilized to train operators in night conditions.
Aviation night vision is vital for organizing round-the-clock crewed aviation operations, the key striking force of modern combat operations. The use of weapons under night conditions needs good training of personnel and, most of all, operators of modern weaponry systems. Otherwise, it would be easy to mistake and launch an attack on a so-called “friendly object” rather than the right target.