A Helicopter pilots worst nightmare is the possibility of a Brown-out.
In aeronautics a Brown-out is simply defined as an in-flight visibility restriction. In basic terms, a helicopter’s rotor kicks up some serious dust clouds especially in the desert and can make the pilot feel as if they are moving, even if the unit is perfectly stable. This can lead to spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness. This has often lead pilots to compare landing a helicopter with their eyes shut. A pilot may feel they need to level the vehicle which results in an accident and causes a rollover or catastrophic crash. Brown-outs have damaged more helicopters in recent defense operations than any other potential hazards in the last 13 years.
Several factors that can enhance the seriousness of an accident depend on wind speed, soil types, rotor configuration, rotor disk loading, and speed and angles. Now you can certainly take preventative measures such as synthetic vision systems, a winged rotor, non-visual displays derived from suitable sensors, and pilot training or technique.
With these unfortunate set of circumstances there seems to be a solution on the horizon, the new CH-53K King Stallion. The Marine Corps have developed a helicopter with three 7,500 horsepower engines and can carry a 27,000 pound load for 110 nautical miles. This unit recently underwent testing at the U.S. Army Yuma Probing Ground. “There is such major improvement that it is basically a new aircraft”, as stated by Hi-Sing Silen, YPG test officer. This vehicle has been a member of the flight itinerary for over 40 years, but will be faster, stronger, lighter, with nearly triple the payload capability.
Now here is the exciting news! A new function has been created to saves lives and prevent damage to the unit. The hydraulic flight controls (which lead to human error) have been replaced with fly-by-wire technology. This new function computerizes the hover mode so the pilot can relax and not try to over-commit causing a rollover or crash. This new design almost sounds like a self-driven Tesla on our highways. “It’s not auto pilot, but a pilot assist”, states Silen.
Landing in a combat zone can be especially treacherous with other aircrafts in the mix. So the King Stallion was pushed through several evaluations at the proving ground. As said by John Rucci, test pilot, “We maintained stability in a hover with very little pilot intervention. We were able to perform tasks in the hover and do pretty much anything the Marine Corps would want to do with the aircraft in a degraded visual environment.”
This news is a huge win for the U.S. Military and its allies. The Marines can virtually get in and out safely anywhere in the world. The state-of-the art capabilities can change the dynamics and strategy of our U.S. forces moving forward and this means bad news for the bad guys.