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Helicopter flights with night-vision goggles: Human factors aspects

Abstract

Night-vision goggles (NVGs) and, in particular, the advanced, helmet-mounted Aviators Night-Vision-Imaging System (ANVIS) allows helicopter pilots to perform low-level flight at night. It consists of light intensifier tubes which amplify low-intensity ambient illumination (star and moon light) and an optical system which together produce a bright image of the scene. However, these NVGs do not turn night into day, and, while they may often provide significant advantages over unaided night flight, they may also result in visual fatigue, high workload, and safety hazards. These problems reflect both system limitations and human-factors issues. A brief description of the technical characteristics of NVGs and of human night-vision capabilities is followed by a description and analysis of specific perceptual problems which occur with the use of NVGs in flight. Some of the issues addressed include: limitations imposed by a restricted field of view; problems related to binocular rivalry; the consequences of inappropriate focusing of the eye; the effects of ambient illumination levels and of various types of terrain on image quality; difficulties in distance and slope estimation; effects of dazzling; and visual fatigue and superimposed symbology. These issues are described and analyzed in terms of their possible consequences on helicopter pilot performance. The additional influence of individual differences among pilots is emphasized. Thermal imaging systems (forward looking infrared (FLIR)) are described briefly and compared to light intensifier systems (NVGs). Many of the phenomena which are described are not readily understood. More research is required to better understand the human-factors problems created by the use of NVGs and other night-vision aids, to enhance system design, and to improve training methods and simulation techniques

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This paper was published in NASA Technical Reports Server.

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