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Instead of Upgrading Helicopters, Army Wants to Upgrade Pilots


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Saw this story yesterday Wired Danger Room:

 

http://www.wired.com...07/air-soldier/

 

Not sure how well informed the author is, but interesting reading for sure!

 

 

"The Army has found a solution to fixing its aging helicopter fleet. It doesn’t even require upgrading the helicopters very much, or designing new and more modern ones. Indeed, the helicopters will remain largely the same. It’s the pilots who are getting upgraded.

 

On Monday, Raytheon received a $4.7 million contract from the Army’s wing for Engineering and Manufacturing Development to develop a

wearable computer system for helicopter pilots. Called the Air Soldier system, which the Army hopes to field by 2015, it includes smartphone-sized devices attached to pilots’ wrists and is envisioned as a way to share battlefield information between pilots and troops on the ground. Those devices are then linked to a detachable tablet mounted to an aircraft dashboard. Behind it all is a brain called the Soldier Computer Module, which is itself planned to be only a quarter of an inch thick and slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes. This comes the same day the military announced it’s spending $7.3 billion on new Black Hawks, which have served as the workhorses of the U.S. helo force since the 1970s.

 

In other words: keep the helicopters, but improve the pilots. Instead of ripping out and redesigning consoles for existing aircraft, and going though costly re-certification, you simply redesign the airmen.

 

Air Soldier is envisioned as a personal communication and information tool. That could mean tracking where friendly troops are operating, or the location of bad guys an attack chopper needs to destroy, or which areas to avoid if a pilot is forced to

abandon his or her aircraft.

 

 

“If an aircrew goes down – unfortunately we’ve seen a few times here recently — the fact that he’s got all of his data, what he knew about the battlespace with him when he gets on the ground, is a huge advantage,” says Todd Lovell, chief engineer for Raytheon Technical Services Company. “And the pilot had all this information in the cockpit. As soon as he got on the ground, it’s gone. if he had to put the airplane down, or a guy ejecting, he was a fish out of water and had to find his way home back to map, a compass and a simple radio.”

 

Air Soldier stresses portability — that pilots should be able to take navigation and battlefield information with them when they leave the aircraft. The screens will also display critical (life-dependent) information like oxygen and coolant levels for the Air Soldier’s new cooling suit, being developed separately from Monday’s Raytheon contract. Air Soldier also features a new

helmet-mounted display system. That’s for a pilot to see icons (say, a red icon for enemy) appearing in his vision, or a virtual representation of the ground while landing in degraded, soupy, or sandy conditions.

 

Air Soldier is also the Army’s planned replacement for Air Warrior — the aging mission-display, helmet and cooling suit ensemble currently used by helicopter pilots in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

 

The problem is that Air Warrior is really heavy, weighing about 100 pounds. The Army wants to cut a quarter of the total weight for Air Soldier. The cooling suit has to be lighter, and the Army wants to cut the number of batteries to one (from Air Warrior’s seven), while also reducing the number of direct connections to the aircraft to three (from Air Warrior’s five), which means fewer cables. Currently, helicopter crew members need to keep their suits’ cooling systems plugged into chopper-mounted power units. The Army

wants to eventually eliminate that.

 

Air Warrior’s tablet — called the Electronic Data Module — is also ten years old and predates the smartphone and smart-tablet revolution in the civilian sector. And the tablet sits on the pilot’s lap, forcing the pilot to look down to see critical navigation information. For Air Soldier’s dashboard-mounted tablet, that information gets shoved back up into the pilots’ face.

 

The Army also wants to swap out Air Warrior’s search and rescue radio with a smaller, cigarette-pack-sized radio that links together with the wrist-mounted smartphone.

 

The smartphone, you see, is the interface. The pilot has “got this information that he can pass through his survival radio and back and forth,” says Lovell. “So as he tries to evade or get into a position to be rescued, it’s not just somebody talking and giving him coordinates and then following the coordinates on his GPS. He’s got a visual picture and tools to help him successfully manage that situation.” Something Air Warrior — which the Army spent years developing and is now ready to replace — never had.

 

It’s also easier to replace than a complete data system. You just plug it in. The helicopters will more or less remain the same."

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The EDM is bigger than the CSEL. Can't imagine flying with one strapped to a leg. Not to mention the monster cable. Hopefully the new solutions turn out good.

 

Not that I care too much. The 64 does most of that already.

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The EDM is bigger than the CSEL. Can't imagine flying with one strapped to a leg. Not to mention the monster cable. Hopefully the new solutions turn out good.

 

Not that I care too much. The 64 does most of that already.

 

It's not as bad/heavy as you think. I don't find it much different than a regular kneeboard. It's fairly light, as there's no real battery to speak of. Power comes through the "monster cable" (which doesn't impede your movement, or anything, as you're seated). It works on top of Falcon View, so you can use all the normal overlays, maps and all that.

 

Why dont they just buy IPads and save a billion dollars.

 

iPads don't send or receive data over satellite, allow you to use your own map data to include satellite imagery, or have SAASM GPS. They're not in an EMI hardened case, and are rather fragile.

 

iPads are great for use in the states as an electronic pubs bag, or as a moving map. But they simply don't provide the same thing that the EDM does.

 

 

 

 

As an aside, yes...the original EDM design is 10 years old. But it hasn't stayed that way. It's actually a pretty decent piece of equipment, and gets software updates regularly. It already has XM weather capability, it's just not implemented yet. (I think it's an antenna/funding for the service issue(s).)

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It's not as bad/heavy as you think. I don't find it much different than a regular kneeboard. It's fairly light, as there's no real battery to speak of. Power comes through the "monster cable" (which doesn't impede your movement, or anything, as you're seated). It works on top of Falcon View, so you can use all the normal overlays, maps and all that.

 

 

 

iPads don't send or receive data over satellite, allow you to use your own map data to include satellite imagery, or have SAASM GPS. They're not in an EMI hardened case, and are rather fragile.

 

iPads are great for use in the states as an electronic pubs bag, or as a moving map. But they simply don't provide the same thing that the EDM does.

 

 

 

 

As an aside, yes...the original EDM design is 10 years old. But it hasn't stayed that way. It's actually a pretty decent piece of equipment, and gets software updates regularly. It already has XM weather capability, it's just not implemented yet. (I think it's an antenna/funding for the service issue(s).)

 

I was half joking but ...

 

EDM's don't do any of those things either. That is all just software interfaced with the BFT. the EDM is nothing more than a computer like an iPad that is bigger, heavier, and slower with EMI hardening. Any computer such as an Ipad or other off the shelf tablet could do the same thing with the software.

 

I'm not knocking the EDM, because I like it, it's better than a lot of stuff we have. But the problem IMO is with the Army's general approach to computer technology. They came up with this plan, bid it out, designed it, etc., etc. so that by the time we see it it's 7 or 8 years old and costs - in the case of the EDM around $7,000, and uses an operating system generations past (windows XP).

 

Computer technology is expendable and developing a system to be fielded in 5 years and utilized for another 10 doesn't work. Off the shelf stuff is cheaper and better- just hire somebody to write the software. As for the EMI hardening, I'm not sure how important that is but if you could harden a tablet for less than $6000 dollars than you would still have a better piece of hardware, and I'm sure you can.

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At least we can carry our pubs on digits now. I don't take a -10 into the cockpit -- instead I bring my iPad.

 

I'm glad you like the EDM. I just think there are potentially more elegant solutions. We only had a class on it, but I found it to be clunky and slow. With glass cockpit it doesn't seem like it provides a ton of benefit anymore, but I'm not sure what sort of moving map setup the other airframes have.

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"If you want it" -- don't scouts always know where they are at? I thought ya'll are taught to just visualize and think real hard. Then out pops a set of MGRS coordinates.

Edited by heloidaho
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Ha, I really meant on if we want it on our side or the other side of the cockpit (we only have two MFDs and like 6 different pages at least to choose from). Generally I fly with the Map up and use the standby gauges.

 

I dont think too hard. :P

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You're god damned right! Worst case scenario I accidentally stumble on the enemy and get to blow some sh*t up!

 

Let's try to keep it professional. I'm not so much a fan of the iPad, since it's relatively fragile, not EMI hardened, and not designed for tactical combat applications. It's a cute toy if you're all about storing e-books, music and videos. The EDM is a pretty decent tool; I am still getting the hang of it, but all that being said, if a "happy medium" between the two can be reached, that would be ideal. But then again, given that the UH-60 fleet is gradually transitioning to the M model, with glass cockpits, it leaves the Army in a unique position to debate how much they want to spend on new gadgets, especially with our current budget crunch. The rest of the new Air Soldier gear is pretty neat though!

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