Everyone knows safety is the number-one priority of aviation, but just behind that is an ever-present impulse to advance the art and the science of flying. In this issue, we focus on some of the technologies that are advancing vertical flight capabilities, making complex missions more common by improving safety and efficiency.
Can helicopters fly at night? Of course, but whether it is safe and practical is another question. Our cover story shines a light on the technologies that are making night flight more manageable and extending the operational feasibility of life-saving missions like firefighting and helicopter EMS. Military operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars proved the effectiveness of night vision and other technologies that allowed U.S. and allied forces to “own the night.” Some of that same gear is making its way into civilian missions and making stateside night flying more common, contributor David Walsh found.
Safety and advanced tech converge on Jan. 1, 2020, the FAA’s deadline for aircraft to be outfitted with ADS-B remote ID transponders. Equipage has been somewhat lax, but in the past six months, with the mandate approaching, helicopter manufacturers and operators are stepping up to install the technology, which is superior to radar at broadcasting location information about individual aircraft and should advance air traffic management as well as safety, according to Assistant Editor Frank Wolfe.
We finalized this issue around the time the U.S. and the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first man to walk on the moon, an incredible feat of human ingenuity performed in no small part to show that we could do it.
That’s not exactly what Bell did prior to the 1989 first flight of the V-22 Osprey, but the creation of what is still the world’s only production tiltrotor was a mini-moonshot of its own. The Osprey had a rocky and tragic start, but has since revolutionized the way the U.S. Marine Corps fights, as detailed in our retrospective on the aircraft that first flew 30 years ago.
Another giant leap in rotorcraft technology continues to expand its flight envelope in West Palm Beach, Florida, and we were invited to the first public display of its skills. The S-97 Raider, which first flew in 2015, is now routinely flying at over 180 knots and has beaten 200 knots in level flight. No traditional helicopters can reach those speeds or perform the series of maneuvers Sikorsky showed us recently.
Finally, with the advent of new aircraft comes the need for new pilots, already in short supply. High-fidelity simulators will take some of the burden from instructors and training aircraft, but may not always be worth the cost, we found.