Army Aviation

Airworthiness Processes

AMRDEC Tech Talk / By Mr. Robert Copeland and Mr. John Stewart: Incremental advancements in technologies afford new capabilities for our warfighters. However, on occasion, the advances create an opportunity to delve into whole new environments.


In 1929 Jimmy Doolittle demonstrated the ability to take-off, fly and land using only instruments. Forty years ago, we tackled the night and came out with the first electro-optical forward looking infrared vision system. Soon after, we owned the night and even now we continue to evolve, mature, and upgrade that capability. Even in the 21st century, we are still bound by other environmental limitations: dust, fog, snow, smoke, etc. that impact our tactical capabilities for operations close to the ground. As usual, Army Aviation led the charge to address those limitations. A team from the Aviation and Missile Research Development & Engineering Center (AMRDEC), in coordination with the Communications and Electronics Research Development & Engineering Center (CERDEC) and various program offices, surveyed technologies across a variety of current science and technology domains. We then leveraged, and subsequently structured, those technologies into a cohesive system focused on greatly expanding our current capabilities.

An Army program office (PO) has now taken on a rapid transition program to design and provide the world’s first enhanced vision pilotage system in order to intentionally enter, and operate in, a variety of degraded visual environments (DVEs). This DVE pilotage system creates a unique challenge for the Army. However, the rewards for success will again propel the warfighter’s capability beyond anything the world has seen making it possible for the user to fully embrace the environment rather than be restricted by it.

Developing Performance Standards
This enhanced capability is not, however, without new challenges. The most obvious, and arguably the most critical, will be the qualification of this system (and those like it). We at the Aviation Engineering Directorate (AED) are well versed in the system engineering processes necessary for qualifying and determining airworthiness. While we understand the process, the standard for safe performance for DVE systems has not been established. Traditional approaches to the airworthiness process depend on fundamental assumptions about the available visual flight environment, or are captured within a set of defined operating limits such as minimum flight above known obstacles, external control measures (i.e., IFR, ATC), etc. What happens when those assumptions are no longer valid? The AED has to go back and challenge all those assumptions and start again.

Fortunately, the AED has been a key player from the start. We have been able to contribute directly in the language, definitions, and points of discussion with the requirements developers at Fort Rucker, the science and technology community, the program offices, and government laboratories. Through this effective communication, the AED was able to scope the problem, explain where we were trying to go, and convey to the Army leadership that the team was heading in the right direction. Through clear communication and working closely with the PO and the system developer, the team has tailored the safety process to ensure we will generate the correct set of artifacts to identify residual risks and provide the proper airworthiness substantiation. The AED’s total involvement in the process thus far has greatly enhanced the confidence in our ability to succeed with the pilotage system.

Human Systems Integration
Addressing the DVE pilotage challenge from an airworthiness perspective boils down to about 20% of what we always do (e.g., component qualification), and about 80% human systems integration. DVE pilotage is not flying IFR in the dust, nor is it flying closer to the ground and simply operating as we do today. DVE pilotage focuses on maintaining visual reference to the ground and being able to avoid both static and dynamic obstructions, and by doing so creates the capability for crews to get in and operate close to the ground (e.g., take-off, landing, limited hover, and enroute) with a greater safety margin. Crews will be able to dynamically react to the flight environment because the DVE pilotage system will present imagery and symbology to enable flight operations in that environment, even when crews cannot see out the window.

The coordination and open communication between the PO and AED, and across the DVE community, has afforded AED the opportunity to have frank discussions concerning the expectations and availability of critical information (data) needed to identify safety and other risk areas early in the development process. A generation ago, the AED, program managers and industry teams evolved their traditional thinking to achieve airworthiness qualification to own the night. Now, the Army team’s endeavor is to adapt and apply sound systems engineering to qualify a DVE pilotage solution so the warfighter can own the environment.

Mr. Robert Copeland is an AED engineering psychologist who specializes in flight symbology, pilotage and human performance and Mr. John Stewart is the AED systems engineer in the Special Operations Aircraft Division (SOAD) supporting the DVE pilotage program, both located at Redstone Arsenal, AL.