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View, CA (Phone: 415/604-3937) RELEASE: 96-262
December 18, 1996
NEW COLLISION AVOIDANCE SYSTEM HELPS HELICOPTER PILOTS NASA has conducted flight tests of a new collision avoidance radar system intended to help helicopter pilots fly more safely when operating close to the ground or in poor weather conditions. Developed by engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, and Honeywell Military Avionics, Minneapolis, MN, the new 35 GHz Millimeter-Wave (MMW) Radar Forward Sensor is designed to detect obstacles in an aircraft's flight path and provides a cockpit display to help avoid them. Although developed for helicopters, the new radar system has potential uses for all aircraft. "Collision avoidance is of concern to all aircraft, requiring the detection of hazardous terrain or obstacles in sufficient time for clearance maneuvers," said Richard Zelenka, group leader for NASA's Automated Nap-of-the-Earth (NOE) Program. "The collision avoidance requirement is even more demanding for helicopters, as their unique capabilities result in extensive operations at low altitude, near to terrain and hazardous obstacles," he said. Although existing cockpit "enhanced vision" systems are acceptable for final approach and landing, they are insufficient for general flight operations, particularly helicopter missions and systems requiring automated warnings, according to Zelenka. Military helicopter pilots, for example, who often fly below tree level, face unique guidance and control tasks, such as aircraft concealment, obstacle avoidance and real time mission planning. These tasks require a high degree of pilot concentration, which is intensified during bad weather and during stressful tactical situations. "Automation of some of these tasks can reduce pilot workload, while enhancing safety," Zelenka said. "Although the program originally had a military focus, some of the technological advances inherent for automating NOE flight have significant potential for civil applications as well, such as emergency medical service helicopters, conventional and high-speed transports, remotely-piloted
aircraft and planetary vehicles," Zelenka said. Other potential users include aerial firefighters, search and rescue aircraft and helicopters serving unique roles, such as oil rig helicopter operators. Flight tests of the collision avoidance system were recently conducted aboard the NASA/Army Rotorcraft Aircrew Systems Concepts Airborne Laboratory (RASCAL) UH-60 research helicopter. The RASCAL is equipped with satellite navigation systems, digital data recorders, panel-mounted displays in the cockpit and crew area and a Silicon Graphics imaging system for generating high fidelity graphics. The new radar system was mounted on the nose of the aircraft and a color video camera was mounted adjacent to the radar to document the test conditions. "By using existing 4.3 GHz radar altimeter components to perform the sensor's transmit and receive functions, the system will yield a low-cost, highly-reliable radar system," said Larry Almsted, Honeywell Program Manager. "Our emphasis has been on affordability from the beginning," Almsted added. The radar altimeter signal is converted to 35 GHz and transmitted as a scanning, three-dimensional pencil-beam through a small twist-reflector type antenna measuring only nine inches in diameter. Flight tests were conducted over flat and moderately rugged mountainous terrain. While airborne, the new radar system constructed a database of the terrain and obstacles it detected in the aircraft's flight path and produced a threedimensional synthetic perspective grid panel display for the pilot. Zelenka said the new radar system also operates well in bad weather conditions such as fog or rain, when visibility is poor. The new radar system and cockpit display have been developed under NASA's Automated NOE program, with the goal of developing technologies to improve the effectiveness and safety of low altitude helicopter missions. -end-