Tricky landing? Not any more, thanks to new 3D technology

A Royal Air Force CH47 Chinook Helicopter re-supplying a patrol base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Sean Clee/MoD/PA Wire
A Royal Air Force CH47 Chinook Helicopter re-supplying a patrol base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Sean Clee/MoD/PA Wire
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SCIENTISTS in Portsmouth have developed new 3D technology to help helicopter pilots land safely in Afghanistan.

Pilots have experienced problems with low visibility when landing helicopters in the desert.

The phenomenon known as ‘helicopter brownout’ occurs when a pilot loses vision due to dust or sand kicked up by the aircraft’s blades and could have fatal consequences.

To overcome the problem, scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) on Portsdown Hill have come up with a helmet-mounted display that provides a virtual 3D image of the landing zone so pilots can visualise where they are touching down.

James Yapp, 24, a scientist at Dstl in Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s a 3D display in the pilot’s eye and shows them their speed, how far they are above the ground and alerts them to any obstacles.

‘Pilots normally use real-world references to judge where they are landing so what we’ve created is a 3D grid which gives them virtual cues for when they can’t see what they’re doing.

‘It can be also be fitted to night-vision goggles to ensure a 24-hour capability.’

Figures for accidents caused by helicopter brownout are classified – but it’s enough of a problem for the Ministry of Defence to consider the new technology.

The Low Visibility Landing System took a team of eight scientists six months to develop in Portsmouth and has been praised by defence equipment minister Peter Luff.

Mr Yapp said: ‘We’ve tested it as a concept and shown that it works. All we’re waiting on is someone in the MoD to agree to put it on the platform and get it into theatre. We hope it will be imminent, while we’re still in Afghanistan.’

Major John Peters of Army Air Corps, who was the lead test pilot for the programme, said: ‘Brownout is a dangerous problem faced daily by UK helicopter crews in Afghanistan.

‘When you come in to land, the amount of dust blown up can completely obscure all visual references. The development of the low visibility landing system will allow helicopter crews to land much more safely in these conditions, giving them references when they would otherwise be blind.’

Mr Luff was shown the new technology recently in London.

He said: ‘This is another brilliant example of how science and technology principles employed by some of the brightest minds in this country can benefit frontline troops.’