Helping Pilots Save Lives

Thanks to Ben Forrest for the great article in Vertical (ASU: Helping pilots save lives!)

Of the many paradigm-shifting innovations in the helicopter industry over the last 25 years, adding night vision goggles (NVGs) to civilian pilot toolkits has been among the most impactful.

These lifesaving devices, previously used by military pilots for several decades, were introduced to the civilian market largely due to the efforts of Aviation Specialties Unlimited (ASU) and Mike Atwood, the company’s founder and CEO.

“He basically opened up the ability for anyone in the U.S. domestic market — and around the world — to fly with night vision goggles safely,” said Dr. Joseph Estrera, president of ASU.

“That has created roughly 4.2 million [NVG] flights that wouldn’t have otherwise existed … There’s a lot of lives saved with that, and Mike was the pioneer to break the barrier.”

Atwood, a former U.S. military pilot who flew Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters, launched ASU in 1995 with a simple goal — to help pilots save lives with night vision technology.

Today, ASU is one of the world’s leading NVG and night vision imaging system (NVIS) providers, as well as a trusted training partner of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“In everything we do, our focus is on night vision solutions that save lives,” said Chad St. Francis, the company’s vice president of business development and marketing. “ASU strives to ensure our customers receive the right night vision equipment, training and services to perform their mission safely … we’re a one-stop shop.”

A key indicator of the high level of trust regulators have with ASU is the company’s new five-year training contract with the FAA.

In January 2023, ASU began executing a five-year FAA contract for NVG helicopter training. ASU is providing initial and recurrent NVG ground and flight training to commercial helicopter-rated FAA inspectors and pilots.

“It’s really at the heart of our core competencies,” St. Francis said. “We hope to continue training the FAA professionals that will drive NVG flight standards and safety within the domestic training market. We’re honored to train the FAA in this venture.”

Thanks to ASU’s efforts, NVGs are now standard equipment for many civilian, law enforcement, firefighting and helicopter emergency medical services operators in the U.S.

But the company’s goal is to see this technology spread around the world, making aviation safer in all jurisdictions.

A major development in this effort is a new ASU contract to expand NVG use in Brazil. The contract is a partnership with Brazilian distributor Quartzo Defense and will enable government organizations from 26 Brazilian states, as well as the Federal District, to buy night vision products and services from ASU.

The initial order includes NVGs, flight helmets, and night vison training for pilots and crew members in military police and military firefighting operations.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve received a contract in Brazil, but it is our largest contract to date,” said Dan Meyer, vice president of sales for ASU. “And it’s got a ton of potential. It’s a big deal for us, and we’re happy to work with Quartzo on that program.”

Another indication of ASU’s impact on aviation safety is Atwood’s recent induction into the Association of United States Night Vision Manufacturers Hall of Fame.

“It shows he’s a pioneer in the industry,” Estrera said. “Twenty years ago, in the U.S. domestic commercial aviation market, the barrier to entry was as tall as Mount Everest. Mike had to claw his way through all of that, because no one else had attempted it before … it’s an amazing thing.”

As they build for the future, Atwood’s expert staff at ASU continue to innovate.

One of their major new projects is to develop lightweight wide field of view NVGs for pilots in the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

The project will be partially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) through its Accelerate the Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies (APFIT) program.

ASU was one of 10 companies to receive DoD funding through APFIT in 2022. Its goal is to develop, manufacture and deliver this new product to customers in just 24 months.

These new goggles will expand the pilot’s field of view from 40 degrees to 97 degrees, and will reduce the weight of wide field of view aviation goggles from 800 grams to 660 grams.

“This system removes significant weight off the head, while providing improved situational awareness and reduced stress for the warfighter,” St. Francis said.

ASU is also developing new products for the civilian market, including lighter-weight binocular NVGs with a target release date of mid-2023.

“There is a global push to operate under night vision systems safely,” St. Francis said. “That message is clear, especially with the large number of interactions with international customers participating in HAI events such as Heli-Expo. ASU is ready to support with the right NVG flight training, aircraft lighting, and night vision systems to operate safely.”

“We’ve made a commitment to innovation and manufacturing, so that we can control more of the process to provide our customers everything they need to have a safe mission,” Meyer added. “I think that’s going to be recognized by our customers — the commitment we have to them — and I think in turn, it will be a great, mutually beneficial partnership.”

ASU: Helping pilots save lives

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