Airbus Defence and Space has conducted a series of live flights to demonstrate the ability of its pilot assistance system, Sferion, to protect helicopters operating in restricted visibility conditions.
Conducted during the German Army Aviation’s Helicopter Forum at its International Training Centre in Bückeburg, the trials highlighted the systems’ ability to prevent significant causes of non-hostile losses and mission failures, such as controlled flight into terrain, degraded visual environments (DVE), object and wire strike, and lack of situational awareness.
The trials were performed using a Bell 206 helicopter, and involved several manoeuvres, including take-offs, enroute flights like low-level flights over hilly terrain and obstacles, such as high-voltage pylons, power lines, and landings.
Airbus Defence and Space test pilot Mark Condon said: "The remedy for degraded vision hazards is no longer a future prospect.
"With Sferion, the solution for safeguarding helicopter pilots and missions is ready for service today."
The flight demonstrations also showed that Sferion, when used along with advanced flight control systems builds the fundamental baseline for further developments of semi-automatic flying in DVE.
Sferion consists of two main components, namely the SferiSense laser-based sensor, which is already in service as obstacle warning system, and the SferiAssist data fusion system.
Designed to accurately and reliably record the environment, SferiSense is the core sensor and is able to detect the surroundings and identify even the smallest obstacles, such as stones as well as landing slopes that could prevent a safe touchdown, when flying in a brown-out cloud.
SferiAssist combines the real-time sensor data with that from a database to create a clear, realistic picture of the helicopter’s surroundings.
The system operates by selecting the information relevant for the pilot for his current flight phase, such as the next navigation point, the condition of the landing zone, or the most critical obstacles.
Sferion has been developed to enable helicopter crews, especially search and rescue teams, the police, special operations forces, and military organisations to fly at low altitudes and in DVE, such as brown-out, white-out, and darkness.
Image: Sferion system enables operation of helicopters in degraded visual-environments. Photo: courtesy of Airbus Defence and Space.