Helicopter vision dialed up

Losing control in a cloud of dust kicked up on landing is a troublingly common plight for military helicopter pilots. Sierra Nevada Corp. is testing a technological solution that will also be offered for civilian use by medevac and other special-mission operators who can’t afford to wait for dust or snow to settle.

Dean Heitkamp, the company’s senior director of business development who has firsthand experience flying military helicopters in Korea, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, said “whiteouts” and “brownouts” are particularly perilous when a large number of helicopters converge on the same patch of desert, and the dust cloud created by the first only grows as followers arrive. Military pilot training has improved over the years to try to cope with this common problem, but landing in zero visibility conditions remains very dangerous, even if nobody is shooting at you.