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Julien Maire quoted in a Defence IQ article

Published by Julien Maire in Helicopter, JM

Furthermore, according to Julien Maire, NH90 & Tiger Production Planner & Improver at Eurocopter, “the biggest problem is data volume: More and more, helicopters request one pilot and two operators as crew. Cockpits now contain lots of data that the pilots and crew have to access and analyse.” Maire suggests that this is the area in which industry should be investing in most.

Defence IQ

If brownout's not the biggest problem with helicopters, what is?

Defence IQ recently produced an analysis of the six major problems with military helicopters and proposed a few suggestions for how to solve them. But what is the major problem? What is the one single factor that has the most detrimental impact to helicopter operations in theatre?

Degraded Visual Environment (DVE), and more specifically brownout where helicopter rotor-wash stirs up dense clouds of airborne particles that impede visibility, is thought to be the cause of three out of every four accidents and costs U.S. forces $100 million each year in its Middle East operations. Defence IQ wanted to know if this was the critical factor affecting operations. In our analysis the other five issues included ensuring unrestricted situational awareness, maintenance sustainability, inadequate survivability, training requirements and simplifying night operations. But we asked the question: Is brownout the biggest problem facing helicopter pilots during operations today?

According to the majority of respondents: no.

Julien Maire quoted in a Defence IQ article

A number of respondents named some of the other factors as the main issue, and in particular concerns over survivability and maintenance were the most frequent answers. Lack of training and reduced operational experience were also noted concerns for some.

Furthermore, according to Julien Maire, NH90 & Tiger Production Planner & Improver at Eurocopter, “the biggest problem is data volume: More and more, helicopters request one pilot and two operators as crew. Cockpits now contain lots of data that the pilots and crew have to access and analyse.” Maire suggests that this is the area in which industry should be investing in most.

But let’s not forget the 24% indicating that brownout is the biggest problem: “A Degraded Visual Environment can happen anywhere not just Afghanistan. This is an issue that affects flight safety and should rightly be the number 1 problem to be solved.”

Brownout is clearly just one of many issues that helicopter engineers and strategists must look at. While respondents didn’t agree it was the top priority, it is certainly a problem that needs addressing. However, according to one respondent brownout can be accounted for and mitigated - other things cannot:

“A brownout doesn't render the flight controls inoperable. Nor does it take away the go arounds and escape routes briefed before landing, or mute the ICS that can be used by any crew member to insist on a go around. Brownout is a simple visual problem and there are tools available for dealing with it, should the aviator choose to use them. Human error is still the biggest problem facing aviators.”