Flying with Night Vision Goggles

Night Vision Goggles

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I had flown Helicopter EMS for several years at night without Night Vision Goggles in the appalachian mountains and elsewhere before any HEMS operator decided to equip their pilots with this advanced technology. Understandably so, with the cost of the goggles at over $10,000 per set, high training costs, lack of management experience and dealing with the FAA was prohibitive. Then finally one day a couple of operators decided to take the plunge after convincing the bean counters that the investment of approximately $60,000 per aircraft/crew was worth it. Though the lack of experience in the beginning resulted in some rediculous restrictions which in some cases prevented the pilots from using the devices even though they had them. (The photo to the left I took through a set of modern ANVIS 9 NVGs; while the photo below is exactly the same shot in the same location and at the same time without NVGs. Both photos are without artificial lighting of any kind.)

The FAA had not yet decided that they needed to take control of NVGs nor how they would and/or could do so, so we had some freedom in our methods. That wouldn't last long though because the FAA in their power trip can't leave anything alone despite the fact that they had almost no inspectors with any experience with this technology, and despite the fact that these are actually carried onto the aircraft.

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What changed when the FAA took control? Two things. First and most importantly, the FAA power trip was satisfied. Secondly, the system was now complicated with the normal rediculousness of governmental control. But, the FAA is trippin', and in their mind that is what is important. Their control didn't enhance safety one bit, and that is what is really most important. What happens when the FAA controls anything is exactly what happens when government gets involved in everything else, it drives the costs up so much that many are prohibited from using the technology at all.

What the FAA does approve is disallowing the use of the NVGs, despite the fact that they seriously enhance safety, based on some factors usually determined by companies who have recieved STCs. The FAA doesn't test this themselves, they simply allow it because that is the way that the STC was written. Common sense never comes into play. Though the use of NVGs is disallowed in some cases, the pilot can choose to have them attached to the helmet "for emergency use only". The problem with this concept is realism. In many cases, in the event of an emergency, there may not be time for the pilot to actually reach up and position and turn on the goggles if they would have enhanced safety in the emergency. Some HEMS pilots fly at little more than 500 feet AGL where in the event of an emergency, the aircraft is as little as 16-20 seconds from ground contact. END