Dust Settles on Helicopter Brownouts

This article has photo gallery Published on CAPT Tim Grabert (author)

Multi Role Helicopter (MRH-90) Taipan at Mount Stewart Training Area. (photo: )
Multi Role Helicopter (MRH-90) Taipan at Mount Stewart Training Area.

Multi Role Helicopter (MRH-90) Taipan operational crews will soon be able to operate with increased safety in dusty conditions after flight test personnel from the Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) completed an extensive test program at the Mount Stewart Training Area last year.

The aim of the four week test program was to develop procedures that operational crews could use if they were faced with ‘brownout’ conditions during operations in the field.

Commanding Officer ARDU, Wing Commander Andrew Figtree said “Brownout occurs when the rotor wash causes dirt, dust or sand to become airborne which can cause pilot’s to lose sight of the ground during a landing or takeoff.”  

“This problem is commonly encountered during operations in desert conditions such as in Afghanistan, and unfortunately has been linked to a number of helicopter accidents for our coalition partners during recent NATO operations.”

The test crews from ARDU aimed to exploit a number of pieces of technology on the MRH90 airframe in order to make operating in dusty conditions as safe as possible. This included the TopOwl Helmet Mounted Sight and Display system, the fly-by-wire flight control system and use of the Forward Looking Infrared Rada (FLIR). The ARDU crews also conducted dust landings and takeoffs by night using both the TopOwl system and Night Vision Goggles.

“Our approach to developing these procedures was to maximise flight safety for operational crews by minimising their cockpit workload and maximising their situational awareness,” WGCDR Figtree said. 

The test program was the culmination of 18 months of hard work by a number of different units. The initial phases of the testing was conducted in early 2012 when the ability of the airframe to resist ‘foreign object damage’ when operating in a field environment was evaluated at high range.

“Without the assistance of the 5th Aviation Regiment, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Aerospace Systems Engineering Squadron, the MRH90 Project Office and 3 Combat Engineering Regiment we wouldn’t have been able to conduct this important testing," WGCDR Figtree said.

Preparations are now underway to clear the MRH-90 for community assistance tasks out of Nowra, Townsville and Oakey in preparation for any natural disasters.

Multi Role Helicopter (MRH-90) Taipan at Mount Stewart Training Area.

Multi Role Helicopter (MRH-90) Taipan at Mount Stewart Training Area.