Forget Synthetic Vision -- Fly Blind By Feel

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A system intended to enable pilots to fly accurately even when blindfolded is being tested this month at Canada's Institute for Aerospace Research (IAR) in Toronto. The system, developed by U.S. Navy Capt. Angus Rupert, uses stimulators embedded in a pilot's vest to produce tiny vibrations that move around the torso in the same direction that the aircraft is moving. The inputs are said to be easy to interpret and help pilots sense their position in the absence of visual cues. Initial tests suggest the tactile system reduces both pilot workload and spatial disorientation when flying in degraded visual conditions. The IAR is flying two experimental helicopters, a Bell 205 and a Bell 412, to test the system. The tactile system could also be used to control an aircraft during emergency situations such as smoke in the cockpit, lightning or other visual incapacitation, or instrument failure, and could also help ground-based pilots control unmanned airborne vehicles. Astronauts and divers are also targeted as beneficiaries of the vest. Sion Jennings, IAR's expert in pilot-vehicle interfaces, said, "We're providing flight-testing expertise in degraded visual environments and helping the U.S. Navy integrate the vest with the helicopter sensors and control systems."