Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Lutheran Air is always on call and when the sun goes down is no exception.
"We've been flying at night safely for quite some time. We've just taken it to a whole new level with night vision goggles," said Rex Alexander, a pilot with Lutheran Air.
The new night vision goggles magnify available light to make the eyes see things they otherwise couldn't see in the dark. Light is brought in from one end of the lens and amplified three to four times, turning the black abyss of night into a green field of clarity.
"It's like seeing during the day with a green tint to the visual field. The clarity you can see on the ground down to every last detail from cornfields and corn rows and even branches. You can see people on the ground you couldn't see before," Abby Harvey, a flight nurse with Lutheran Air, said.
NewsChannel 15 got exclusive access with Lutheran Air to see what the goggles looked like from the air when landing in a field.
"When you go into a scene accident site in a rural environment being able to see the hazards that you normally wouldn't be able to see is pretty substantial," Alexander said.
The Poe Fire Department set up the landing area. As the helicopter approached they told the flight crew over the radio where the hazards were. At the same time, inside the helicopter the flight nurse was also looking out.
"I'm scanning from left to right looking for any hazards and as we lose altitude I'm looking for hazards on the ground," Harvey said.
When the night flight crew comes in for its shift, the three members of the team all get out their night vision goggles. They'll check the equipment and focus the goggles for their eyes so they are ready to go if a flight call comes in.
"We'll be under goggles for lift off and landing and when we are working on a patient we can flip them up," Patrick Smith, a flight nurse/paramedic with Lutheran Air, said.
Landing in the dark with the night vision allowed the pilot to see the field and firefighters much better than without.
"When you're landing at night with a light, you have a focused beam and you're limited to that one location. Anything outside that light you really don't know what's there unless you move the light. With night vision goggles all I have to do is move my head and I can see everything that's outside that realm. It makes it much safer environment to operate in," Alexander said.
Lutheran Air has three pairs of night vision goggles. Each cost $10,000.
All the flight crews went through training to know how to use them and get used to the limitations of the technology.
"You don't have stereoscopic views like you normally would, so you're looking at everything on a flat panel like looking through a TV screen for each eye, so you have no depth perception," Alexander said. "It is also monochromatic. Multiple shades of green and you can't discern color. There is a narrow field of view. These do allow some peripheral, but you're looking through a 45 degree field of view, so you have to get used to constantly moving your head and scanning or you'll get fixated and won't pick up the difference in velocities moving across the ground."
The night vision goggles use green because the eyes are more sensitive to green light and it's easier to look at green screens for long periods of time.
One of the two videos in this story is a longer look at what flying with the night vision goggles is like.