When we spoke with Tyson Phillips and Brett Harlow, they said it was a perfect day to fly in their eyes.
“An absolutely beautiful day to fly, light winds,” Phillips said.
So, it was hard to believe that they’d want to change that.
“When we start flying, our pilot, Brett, is going to start experiencing bad visibility,” Phillips explained.
Tyson Phillips is the president of AT Systems LLC. They’ve developed a device to help train pilots in bad visibility situations.
“I cannot see anything out in front of the aircraft at this point,” said Brett Harlow, Chief Pilot of Axxeum.
Harlow was wearing an augmented reality device, which simulates clouds, dust and other weather elements that limit visibility.
“The pilot has no idea when the instructor will input,” Harlow said. “So, the pilot has no idea when to expect it.”
“With our system, we control the visibility between unlimited visibility down to no visibility and everywhere in between,” Phillips said. “When we confuse the brain with both visual and vestibular illusions, the brain struggles to comprehend and it goes into what we call a fast brain mode. It responds intuitively, but the problem is to respond intuitively. You have to have been trained and we’ve never trained pilots to deal with visual and vestibular confusion.”
That means both your eyes and your sense of balance are being thrown off.
Phillips has been in the Army for 20 years and a pilot for 17 of those. This idea came from an accident that hit close to home for him.
“In 2015, the Louisiana National Guard crashed a Black Hawk off the coast of Florida,” Phillips said. “The aircraft involved in that accident was the most advanced the Army had with a very experienced crew which led us to why do we keep having these accidents?”
Weather-related helicopter crashes aren’t anything new.
“This is a problem that's gone on as long as helicopter aviation has been around,” Phillips said.
More recently, the crash involving NBA star Kobe Bryant brought this topic worldwide attention. Phillips saw it as a learning moment, one that could bring the need for more weather-related pilot training to the spotlight.
“With the Kobe crash, it's easy to armchair quarterback and it's easy to look back on things and say, 'I won't do this, I won't do that,'” Harlow said.
Harlow flies for Axxeum, a company that does everything from search and rescue, to firefighting, to cargo and charter flights.
“Definitely is a force multiplier for the training side of it.”
Phillips said they’ve built a number of safety systems, since they are flying helicopters and purposefully obstructing a pilot’s vision. First, a safety pilot who is focused on outside the aircraft. Second, limits on the aircraft.
If the training pilot breaks those limits, Phillips said, "the entire assembly will go clear and clear in front of his field of view, the reason for this is that added layer of safety.”
“With devices like this, it definitely adds to more of the real world scenarios the pilots need,” Harlow said.
As Phillips continues to develop the device, his goal is to have it as an extra tool for pilot training for military, law enforcement, private, commercial, you name it.
“Any kind of training device or any kind of training input that I can get as a pilot, and I think most pilots would agree, that there's no such thing as over training in aviation,” Harlow said.