Wednesday, October 19, 2011

F-35-Style Sensors on Helos? It Could Happen

DefenseTech - We all know about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s wild infrared sensor technology, called the Distributed Aperture System, that will (someday) allow pilots to see in a complete bubble for miles around their airplane. If, and when, the system comes online, it will allow F-35 jocks to literally look through the floor of their aircraft by viewing images collected by tiny infrared and electro-optical sensors mounted all over the plane on their helmet visors.

These sensors are so powerful that DAS-maker Northrop Grumman claims a test plane flying over Maryland and Virginia have accidentally tracked rocket launches in Florida with the system.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is for now. Engineers are having trouble broadcasting high-quality images from the DAS onto the F-35 helmet’s curved visor. In fact, Lockheed just issued a contract for a backup helmet that won’t receive DAS info, for now anyway.

Still, this technology will likely be fielded eventually and it may appear in more than just JSF cockpits. Boeing’s Bill Sunick, director of V-22 business development, explained that we could see DAS-style sensors on future helicopters.

“I can see a migration eventually happening because that’s a good thing,” said Sunick during an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference here in Washington last week. “You don’t have your FLIR [sensor] ball out in the nose and you’re combining sensors because they use the same sensors for IR [and electro-optical images]. So, you’re constantly looking for ways to reduce weight and create synergies — distributed apertures are a good thing and with the 360 degree, above and below. So, you can get rid of the FLIR, you can get rid of all the separate missile sensors and have [all of that sensor info] stiched together and now you can do some innovative things like have crew awareness” where all members of an aircrew can be looking for threats all around the aircraft.             More