Sferion, the most advanced pilot assistance system from Airbus Defence and Space, has proven its capabilities to protect helicopters in restricted visibility conditions during a series of live flights during the German Army Aviation’s Helicopter Forum at its International Training Centre in Bückeburg. Thereby, the company demonstrated the systems’ ability to prevent the most 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. Furthermore Airbus Defence and Space demonstrated that Sferion in combination with state-of-the-art flight control systems builds the fundamental baseline for further developments of semi-automatic flying in DVE.
The flight demonstration was carried out on a Bell 206 platform in front of numerous representatives of NATO army aviation services. Among the manoeuvres shown were takeoffs, enroute flights like low-level flights over hilly terrain and obstacles such as high-voltage pylons and power lines, and landings. The test pilot Mark Condon, former Chief Instructor of an “Apache” helicopter regiment of the UK armed forces, commented: “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 two main components of the system are the SferiSense laser-based sensor, today already in service as obstacle warning system, and the SferiAssist data fusion system. SferiSense is the core sensor, which precisely and reliably records the environment (e.g. terrain, objects). Even when flying in a brown-out cloud, SferiSense can reliably detect the surroundings and identify even the smallest obstacles, such as stones as well as landing slopes that could prevent a safe touchdown. SferiAssist combines the real-time sensor data with that from a database in order to create a clear, realistic picture of the helicopter’s surroundings. The system selects 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.
Helicopter crews, especially search and rescue teams, the police, special operations forces and military organisations face a number of safety challenges in their missions, in particular when they have to fly at low altitudes and in DVE, such as brown-out, white-out and darkness. In addition to the task of simply flying the aircraft, such crews generally have to complete extremely challenging missions. This leads to an enormous workload for the entire crew, and can result in complete loss of situational awareness and thus tragic accidents. The Sferion pilot assistance system has been developed to master these operational challenges. The key task of the system is to ensure that the crew is constantly aware of their physical and tactical position, thus enabling them to confidently fly the aircraft while completing their mission-specific tasks.