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January 2010 Issue

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Technology Gives Air Care Helicopter Pilots a Brighter Night

By Katy Cosse
Published January 2010

When the sun sets, Air Care & Mobile Care crews now bring out one more piece of equipment for their emergency missions.

The organization recently added four pairs of night vision goggles (NVGs) to their helicopters, designed to give pilots a daylight-clear look at the night sky.

Air Care & Mobile Care clinical director Teri Grau says the NVGs are an essential safety tool. The helmet-mounted goggles amplify light 30,000-50,000 times, allowing crews to see light not visible to the human eye.
Such vision is particularly useful for pilots trying to avoid hazards near highway accident scenes or by dark landing sites.

“There’s an entirely different set of challenges in night flying,” says Grau. “The NVGs have been proven effective in improving safety associated with night operations.”

She says one of the main challenges in night missions is the prevalence of high-tension wires that blend in with the scenery: “There have been numerous incidents and close calls in the whole industry during night flights—one of the common causes is coming close to or in contact with wires.”

As a flight nurse and chair of Air Care & Mobile Care’s safety council, Dennis Schmidt knows the importance of night vision first hand. He was in the first crew to use the goggles on a scene mission, conducted in Clermont County in September.

“We discovered a small wire strung pole-to-pole near the landing zone, which was just a church parking lot,” he said. “To the unaided eye at night, wires are just invisible until you’re right on top of them. That’s the main reason that we pushed to go to night vision-aided flying.”

The NVGs are the third generation of a military-developed technology. Schmidt describes their effect as turning the night environment into “green daylight.”

“It’s even more impressive than any of us ever thought—the clarity, the details,” he says.

Grau says every team member will receive one-on-one training on the NVGs with FAA-certified pilots.

“These goggles are just one tool that will help us greatly improve our safety in night operations. They can increase your awareness of everything around you and decrease the stress and workload on the pilots and the whole flight team,” she says.

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