SEEING IS BELIEVING
Karlene: Bob, last week you told me that the Max-Viz Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS) was designed to improve aircrew Situational Awareness (SA), and ultimately operational flight safety. Can you tell all of us how this system works?
Bob: EVS, or Enhanced Vision Systems, provides a supplemental display of real world cues that would otherwise not be visible due to darkness or reduced visibility caused by weather or atmospheric effects. This improved situational awareness enhances judgment and decision making, thus increasing operational efficiency, and improving safety margins.
The cockpit design that initiated Bob's interest in Max Viz
Karlene: You’ve mentioned situational awareness twice now, so I feel compelled to ask you how this system improves SA. Because, as we both know, it doesn’t matter what aircraft you’re in, or the area of operations, we all depend upon situational awareness to keep us safe.
Bob: So true. The system is designed to provide improved situational awareness by allowing rapid scene content assimilation from relatively brief image scans. Image use is similar to out-the-window visual scanning where general scene observations can be made, followed by specific object examination if required. Both peripheral and fovial scanning techniques are used, in a very conventional and natural way, along with routine, natural, divisions of attention and cognitive switching. The EVS image is used to supplement and augment the normal visual scan and information obtained from the EVS image is used in a similar manner as that of real world viewing.
Demo Bell 206
Karlene: Excellent! You have me sold. Can you tell me how it works?
Bob: In its most basic form, EVS is an electro-optical system consisting of an Infrared (IR) camera, supporting hardware, cockpit displays and system controls. The image can be displayed on Multi-Function Displays (MFD), Control and Display Units (CDU), Primary Flight/Navigation Displays (PFD/ND) or stand alone dedicated displays mounted within the pilots primary scan or positioned for easy viewing within the cockpit.
Agusta A-109 Launch STC Aircraft
Karlene: I’m comfortable with the "display" part of the discussion, but will you tell me a little bit more about the infrared cameras, and why the IR application works in an airplane?
Bob: Certainly. Infrared (IR) cameras based on non-cryogenically cooled microbolometers are the sensors of choice for EVS use. They are small, light weight, reliable, affordable; and, most important, they satisfy current operational requirements and needs. These EVS IR cameras detect extremely small thermal (temperature) differences within their fields of view, creating an image that looks very similar to standard black and white video. But unlike video cameras, IR detectors work even in the absence of visible light, making them ideal sensors during periods of darkness or restricted visibility. The specific type and wavelength of IR sensor used in the Max-Viz EVS has been optimized for maximum penetration through atmospheric obscurants and restrictions to visibility.
Karlene: Specific type and wavelength— does that make a difference to the application?
Bob: Yes, the long-wave IR sensor in Max-Viz products are selected specifically for their superior ability to image real world features such as terrain and obstacles / clouds with its many variations in thermal composition. IR sensors effectively allow the aircrew to “see” beyond the visible, which helps detect potentially hazardous conditions. Terrain features, and significant details are recognizable at night, through the scud, or other visibility restrictions when they would otherwise not be visible and they can be “seen” at considerably greater distances when compared to normal unaided vision.
High resolution screen grabs from Alaska
Same place / time shots with a very high resolution witness camera.
Karlene: Can you actually see through the clouds with Max-Viz?
Bob: EVS is not a crystal ball, and imaging through clouds is not possible because of the limitations of physics (much like that of the naked eye). That specific limitation, however, creates a capability within the system. If a sensor cannot penetrate a cloud, it can be imaged (appearing in the display like a cloud) and avoided. Since Inadvertent Flight into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC) is the principal cause or initiator of CFIT occurrences that see and avoid capability becomes a significant attribute of EVS.
Van Nuys Same/Place same time
Karlene: This is fascinating. So where would you say the EVS system is most effective?
Bob: EVS is especially effective at night and in blowing sand, dust, smog, smoke, and haze where IR effectively turns night into day. IR can also provide significant improvements over the visible in mist, rain, snow and fog.
Sun Valley same place/ same time
Karlene: I have had a little experience with the HUD, Heads Up Display, but this product almost sounds like it operates like a HUD. Is that correct?
Bob: Not exactly. EVS is designed principally as a Heads Down Display (HDD) device rather than being presented on a Heads Up Display (HUD). As such, the system is principally and foremost designed as a safety tool rather than a mission enhancement device.
Karlene: Can you explain that statement further? What is the primary difference between the two systems? Better yet, what is the difference between a “safety tool” verses a “mission enhancement device?”
Bob: Let’s think about a tool ... EVS in this case... that supports operations conducted right now. EVS doesn’t allow operations into areas where you can’t see. The decisions you make are still based on what you see outside the windscreen.
Let’s compare EVS with Night Vision Goggles (NVG), both are enhancements to terrain recognition except when the NVG’s are worn like small binoculars over the eyes, that new “visual reality” is what the pilot is basing go / no-go decisions on. In the same instance operating with only the naked eye and EVS, once the visual cues (at night) are not present (normally dim terrain features or surface lights), the mission is not extended because even though the EVS may present the forward imagery very clearly, the operational decisions are made by what is seen with the naked eye.
I present this comparison using the term “previously unrecognized risk." In this example, when a pilot or crew continues using NVG’s into a region that necessitates their use, they are “betting” that those same conditions will remain intact until they reach conditions where visual recognition can occur without those enabling devices. That is one of the more pronounced differences, and has adversely affected any number of pilots / crews... me included, when all of a sudden either atmospherics or lack or required light result in a sudden and unpredicted failure of the NVG’s in an area where they are absolutely necessary.
San Diego Ramp Comparison
Karlene: But the benefits of EVS are many—Improved situational awareness at night or during periods of reduced visibility. Efficient visual arrival operations with fewer delays. Improved visual detection of ground hazards, with the ability to ensure that the runway/landing zone and touchdown area are clear. Improved ability to avoid inadvertent flight into IMC with the ability to see terrain features and hazards during takeoff, climb, descent, approach, and landing or low altitude maneuvering. Did I miss anything?
Bob: You summed up the strengths well. One additional benefit of EVS is that it provides an independent visual verification during an instrument approach. I think one of the most profound benefits of EVS is the quantum reduction in stress during periods where even a slight glimpse of terrain or the environment can make a world of difference to a single pilot or flight crew.
Runway incursion comparison
Karlene: We know that two sets of eyes are better than one in the flight deck, and especially on approach. Is the system difficult to learn, and can it be installed in any aircraft?
Bob: The system requires no mandatory initial and recurrent training outside of how to physically operate the system. EVS is also compatible with current cockpit technologies, operational philosophies and established procedures, and is readily adaptable to multiple aircraft cockpit configurations. No special EVS checks or data inputs are required. Interpretation is straight forward due to IR image similarities with standard video.
Eurocopter EC-130 Launch Installation
Karlene: If you could give advice to anyone for improved safety, what would that be?
Bob: Without a doubt, improving situational awareness is our best defense against accidents.
Karlene: You couldn't have said that better. Thank you very much for taking your time to share an exceptional product with our viewers. And for giving your life to creating a safer flying environment.
For anyone who would like to contact Bob, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions for this amazing piece of equipment please ask. We can all benefit from your questions.
Enjoy the Journey!