Sandblaster Technology Successfully Demonstrates Ability to Enable Safer Helicopter Landings in Blinding Conditions
Flying the RASCAL JUH-60 BLACK HAWK helicopter outfitted with the prototype Sandblaster system, pilots executed landing approaches Jan. 12-14 in a variety of terrain, including slopes containing potentially dangerous obstacles to safe landings. With only a few hours of familiarization with the system, guest pilots executed the approaches safely. The flight demonstration team included three U.S. Army pilots, and ground observers included personnel from several Army, Air Force and Marine Corps' technology development offices.
In May 2007, Sikorsky announced a contract award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and demonstrate a system for guiding safer landings in situations where pilots cannot see the ground due to degraded visibility. Brownouts, for example, occur frequently in desert environments when rotor downwash kicks up sand and dust into blinding clouds enveloping the aircraft.
"The Sandblaster project speaks to Sikorsky's strength and priority, which is engineering safety into products," said Brad Kronauer, Sandblaster Program Manager. "As the system integrator, we commend our Honeywell and Sierra Nevada teammates for their efforts in making these demonstrations so successful, proving these combined technologies work together as a prototype system, and allowing us to move toward development of a system for production."
The system integrates several technologies, including advanced flight controls, a "see-through" sensor, advanced synthetic vision, and data fusion, allowing the pilot to locate and touch down on level landing terrain free of obstacles.
Using the system, a pilot presses a single button to engage the automated flight controls, developed by Sikorsky. These controls bring the aircraft from en-route flight to a low hover with little-to-no drifting over a pre-programmed landing point. During the landing approach, Sierra Nevada's three-dimensional radar, capable of penetrating sand and dust, detects terrain and objects within the intended landing zone. Using radar and other data, Honeywell's Sensor-driven Localized External Evidential Knowledge (SLEEK) and Synthetic Vision System (SVS) displays on a cockpit screen a three-dimensional view of the landing zone and surroundings. The pilot is able to monitor progress during the automated approach by viewing an electronic representation of the landing zone. The pilot also is able to view and adjust the precise landing point in relation to slopes and other objects while the automated flight controls maintain stability. The system includes a 360-degree view of terrain and objects in relation to the intended landing point.
Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., based in Stratford, Conn., is a world leader in helicopter design, manufacture, and service. The company's long commitment to safety and innovation is reflected in its mission statement: "We pioneer flight solutions that bring people home everywhere... every timeTM."
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