Mar. 23, 2021
A look at an HAI member up close and personal.
Degraded visual environment (DVE) spatial disorientation (SD) has contributed to several fatal helicopter accidents. Dallas, Texas–based (ATS) is on a mission to help reduce the incidence of such accidents with a realistic in-flight training product that targets SD brought on by DVE.
The Problem with Traditional Simulators
Spatial disorientation is a condition in which confusion occurs between a person’s vestibular (motion) and proprioceptive (muscle and joint awareness) sensory systems when visual cues are absent. Pilots with SD make improper flight-control inputs, setting off a chain of events that can lead to fatal accidents. Although simulators are regularly used for DVE training, they’re inadequate for inducing SD, due to their lack of sustained vestibular inputs, particularly angular and linear acceleration.
The ATS Device is an in-aircraft degrading-visibility simulation system that accurately simulates DVE conditions. The product attaches to modern helmets with no required modifications.
Essentially a large plastic visor with its own electric power, the device is controlled wirelessly from a tablet to go from clear to cloudy conditions at varying levels of speed, simulating DVE. The pilot still has full view of aircraft instruments when wearing the device. When SD sensations set in, the pilot learns in a realistic environment to trust his or her instruments while safety pilots and crews remain unaffected.
The ATS Device is designed to incorporate available resources, such as night-vision goggles, heads-up displays, or synthetic vision. The device is automated, running preprogrammed simulations during flights. It also contains a built-in fail-safe that enables the visor to go clear if the aircraft exceeds preset limits such as bank, climb, or descent.
The Story Behind the ATS Device
ATS founders Andre Lavallee and Tyson Phillips, both accomplished veteran combat and civilian helicopter pilots, developed the ATS Device in 2015 to help train pilots in DVE scenarios. The product is the first in the industry to merge simulated DVE environments with in-aircraft training, say the two founders, creating realistic conditions for spatial disorientation.
Recognizing that both military and civilian rotorcraft operators often find themselves in rapidly changing weather conditions, Lavallee and Phillips wanted to design a tool that would best prepare aviators to combat the often-deadly outcome of SD.
The pair remain active in the recovery-training industry today. Lavallee volunteered on the US Helicopter Safety Team’s group for helicopter safety enhancement (H-SE) 123, “Increased Simulation/Education to Develop Safe Decision-Making,” and Phillips co-chaired the H-SE 127, “Recognition/Recovery of Spatial Disorientation,” group.