THE SEE-EV­ERY­THING HEL­MET

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - How Your World Works - BY ALE X AN­DER GEORGE

Now pi­lots can pick off bo­geys us­ing X-ray vi­sion.

WHEN MA­JOR WILL ANDREOTTA be­gan fly­ing for the US Air Force in 2006, he had to do a lot of work. He was train­ing on the F-16, a fighter jet first de­ployed in 1978 and al­most ev­ery­thing was ana­logue. “I would tell my wing­man to tar­get some­thing, then call over: ‘Con­firm your this, be­cause I'm see­ing that,' ” he says.

In com­par­i­son, the F-35 that Andreotta flies now is a mar­vel: it has six ex­ter­nal ar­tic­u­lat­ing in­frared cam­eras and sen­sors that send main­te­nance data to the ground crew. And, as of this year, it comes with a hel­met un­like any other in the world – one that syn­the­sises all the live feeds from the plane's ex­te­rior cam­eras and sen­sors into a lu­cid, cus­tomis­able aug­mented-re­al­ity dis­play. De­vel­oped by Rock­well

Collins, the com­pany re­spon­si­ble for avion­ics in the Boe­ing 787 and for NASA'S un­manned air­craft projects, the Gen III Hel­met Mounted Dis­play Sys­tem gives a pi­lot as much vis­i­bil­ity as he would have if the en­tire cock­pit were made of glass. “What I wore on the F-16,” Andreotta says, hold­ing up the R5,5 mil­lion car­bon-fi­bre mas­ter­piece, “was a lit­eral hel­met com­pared with this.”

The dif­fer­ence such a piece of equip­ment makes to fly­ing is strik­ing. Now, when Andreotta looks down at his boots in the cock­pit, the hel­met pulls data from a cam­era un­der the plane and shows him a ther­mal im­age of what­ever's below, as if there were no floor. If he tells his wing­man to tar­get an en­emy, he watches for a cir­cle to ap­pear around that plane or build­ing. “I can do all that in five sec­onds or less with­out hav­ing to ask for con­fir­ma­tion,” he says.

With so many sen­sors and read­ings, there's po­ten­tial for in­for­ma­tion over­load. But the sys­tem is as cus­tomis­able as a smart­phone. “Peo­ple al­ways ask, ‘Doesn't that get to be too much? Doesn't it take away from what you need to do?' ” he says. “It's the op­po­site. I can put what­ever I want – another air­craft's range, bear­ing, air­speed, or al­ti­tude, for ex­am­ple – up on my screen.” The screen doesn't take over a pi­lot's en­tire vi­sion and what­ever num­bers and stats he chooses to add ap­pear just out­side his fo­cal point. In fact, the F-35's com­puter pre­vents pi­lots from get­ting over­taxed by help­ing them pri­ori­tise in­for­ma­tion. The vi­sor will show the num­bers for a tar­get 15 kilo­me­tres away, but not a tar­get 30 kilo­me­tres away. It knows that the closer one is, the more im­mi­nent threat. That is, un­less Andreotta de­cides the dis­tant tar­get is more im­por­tant. There are some de­ci­sions only a hu­man can make.

THE SPECS

29,979 km Low-fre­quency long­wave­length ra­di­a­tion is great at pen­e­trat­ing solid ob­jects such as the walls of build­ings, but can’t carry as much in­for­ma­tion over a given pe­riod of time as shorter waves. At a su­per-long wave­length, the Res­cue Dog MINEARC Through-theEarth Sys­tem can trans­mit text mes­sages through the earth to min­ers trapped as far as 1,5 kilo­me­tres un­der­ground. 666–600 m In medicine, ra­dio-fre­quency ab­la­tion at­tacks can­cer with­out tra­di­tional surgery by send­ing waves at this wave­length through a nee­dle, killing can­cer cells with heat. 3,4–2,8 m (87,5–108 MHZ) FM ra­dio. Me­ga­hertz num­bers cor­re­spond to ra­dio-sta­tion names. 1–0,94 m 53–43 cm The FCC broad­cast spec­trum auc­tion: the band once used for broad­cast TV chan­nels and cov­eted by cel­lu­lar car­ri­ers hap­pens to be in a sweet spot for com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a lot of in­for­ma­tion and pretty good at get­ting through walls to the peo­ple who need it. 49,3–48,8 cm The wave­lengths that cor­re­spond to TV chan­nel 37 have never ac­tu­ally been used in the US for TV, be­cause they are set aside for ra­dio as­tron­omy. my. 12,5 cm (2,4 GHZ) Traf­fic jam: the FCC has des­ig­nated the 2.4-GHZ band for un­li­censed use, so mi­crowave ovens, Blue­tooth speak­ers, Wi-fi routers, baby mon­i­tors and some cord­less phones use fre­quen­cies in this area. This is why us­ing your mi­crowave and a Jam­box at the same time can cause static. 3,89–3,79 mm Com­mon adap­tive-cruise-con­trol sys­tems use this band – which is a prob­lem for ra­dio as­tronomers, who have been al­lot­ted an ad­ja­cent por­tion of the spec­trum. Re­search sug­gests cars with ACC should ide­ally be kept about 30 to 40 kilo­me­tres away from ra­dio tele­scopes.p 12,5–10 mm

400–300 nm The hu­man eye has the equip­ment to see near UV, but it is nor­mally blocked from our per­cep­tion be­cause it can’t pen­e­trate the lens of our eyes. Peo­ple who have their lenses re­moved dur­ing cataract surgery are of­ten ca­pa­ble of see­ing near UV. 200–122 nm A new aero­plane lava­tory be­ing de­vel­oped by Boe­ing briefly turns on a far UV light when un­oc­cu­pied – in fewer than three sec­onds, it kills 99,99 per cent of germs. 0,05–0,01 nm 100 nm At wave­lengths shorter than this, EM ra­di­a­tion is ion­is­ing – it car­ries enough en­ergy to strip elec­trons from atoms – and can cause se­ri­ous health ef­fects, such as can­cer. < 1 pm Gamma ra­di­a­tion cre­ated The In­cred­i­ble Hulk in comic books and in real life can give you ra­di­a­tion poisoning. Gamma-ray imag­ing is used by cus­toms and border pro­tec­tion of­fi­cials to look in­side con­tainer­ised cargo.

Ma­jor Joshua “Switch” Larsen, pi­lot in­struc­tor with the US Air Force’s 61st Fighter Squadron.

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