In order to improve flight in low visibility, Helicopter Division personnel formulated a new plan with the purpose of keeping helicopter aircrews safe. They now intend to begin implementing the plan in the IAF Flight Academy

Nadav Shaham

About a year ago, a new low visibility flight program was established in the Helicopter Division, as a result of a command issued by Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel, IAF Commander.

“The IAF has understood that there are recurring safety incidents in the Helicopter Division that are associated with weather conditions. As a result, we had to lead a cultural change in low visibility flight in the division, in order to prevent the reoccurrence of these events in the future”, shared Lt. Col. Omri, Commander of the “Magic Touch” Squadron which operates AH-64 Apache (“Peten) Helicopters.

“Despite the debriefings we performed after severe weather incidents in the past few years, we haven’t been able to make the change, which is mostly mental. We understood, among other things, that we hadn’t been dealing with the matter in the appropriate manner, as a result, we were required to rethink our approach to the issue, which now includes a long term implementation program”, added Lt. Col. Arnon, Commander of the Helicopter and UAV Simulator Squadron.

Foresight is 20/20

Photography: Mor Tzidon

The Element of Surprise
What are low visibility conditions exactly? A very dark night, fog, clouds, sand and rain are all types of visibility harming elements. In practice, the new program defines a new base condition for helicopter flight.

If, until now, there were only two conditions: Visual Flight in which the pilots clearly see their surroundings with their eyes alone and Instrument Flight in which they navigate the helicopter only with its systems, a new condition has been added: limited visibility flight, a kind of hybrid of the two classic conditions which combines the advanced technological systems and the pilots’ eyes.

“The set of tools that we have provided our pilots with is supposed to help them define which condition they are flying in, so they understand if they face limited visibility and operate in accordance with procedure”, said Capt. Asaf who was a member of the think tank.

“The element of surprise doesn’t leave much time for action, stresses out the pilots and limits their actions”, explained Lt. Col. Arnon. Therefore, the members of the program emphasize the importance of forward thinking in flight and preliminary planning before every sortie time and time again.

If the helicopter crew enters limited visibility flight, it must stop and not advance in the sortie until it solves the newly surfaced problems.

Foresight is 20/20

Photography: Mor Tzidon

Eyes and Technology
When flying in difficult weather, aircrews from all divisions are aided by advanced technological systems which help orient them in the air. The system unique to the helicopter division is called the “Nadiv” (Hebrew for Generous) which is installed in all IAF helicopters.

The control and monitoring system which was developed by the Israeli “Elbit Systems” displays a kind of moving digital map, on which the pilots can mark different coordinates and by doing so, allow the system to locate the helicopters exact location in relation to the ground.

“The system is currently undergoing a significant upgrade which will include new solutions for limited visibility flight”, said Capt. Assaf. The first solution will be coloring the topographic area around the helicopter in relation to its height and by doing so, prevent collisions.

The second solution the upgrade entails is calculating a safety height: before the sortie, the crew defines the speed in which it needs to fly in order to safely perform the flight.

Foresight is 20/20

Photography: Mor Tzidon

Mental Challenge
After the flight basics team completed their work, the time came for the program leaders to implement the new ideas in the IAF’s Helicopter Squadrons.

“This is the stage in which the IAF has failed in the past, so we understood that it is critical”, clarified Lt. Col. Omri, a member of the implementation team. “We need to cause a culture change in the pilots’ minds and it is a mental challenge. Instructions were issued after accidents in the past, but they couldn’t create a significant change”.

“It is an instruction sortie in which the pilots train all of the limited visibility flight techniques and experience all of its elements. Furthermore, we integrated limited visibility elements in other training sorties in order to raise awareness to the subject”, shared Lt. Col. Arnon, also a member of the implementation team.

Foresight is 20/20

Archive Photo

New Tricks
The implementation program includes a number of elements. The IAF Helicopter Squadrons now enter clouds proactively in order to improve and implement the new tools.
“It isn’t a problem to get the young pilots used to the new procedure, but coming up to a senior pilot and telling him that he needs to fly differently from now on, is a big challenge, mostly mental, because you need to ‘penetrate’ his mind and convince him that it is the right thing to do”, said Lt. Col. Omri. “We recently held a two night limited visibility training exercise in the squadron. On the first night, there were no clouds and the crews claimed in the debriefing that they understand the point and that the change doesn’t seem very significant to them, but on the second night, the debriefing was very different. There were clouds, people dealt with vertigo and difficult issues. Upon the completion of the debriefing, one of our senior reserve pilots came up to me and said: ‘Until today I didn’t understand anything and now I am going to study’. It goes to show that the process works, it is easier to implement a change over time when people participate in continuous training with clear rules and procedures”.