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FEATURE - FIRE FIGHTING / SAR ISSUE


BY MICHAEL ARCHER PHOTOS BY MICHAEL KATZ


Night Vision Goggles may conjure up thoughts of elite


Special Forces units going into battle in the dead of night, but they also have found a use in nighttime helicopter oper- ations. A number of fire departments and agencies have employed these devices to allow them to attack wildfires at night and to perform difficult night rescues that would be foolhardy otherwise. So how did this cutting-edge technol- ogy first see the light of day, and what does the future hold?


A BRIEF HISTORY OF NVG Night Vision Goggles were first employed by both the


Germans and the US in World War II. A few dozen “Generation 0” night-vision systems were in use towards the end of that conflict. It wasn’t until the US became involved in the Vietnam War, however, that such devices came into more frequent use. These early “Generation 1” units (which required at least some small illumination, like moonlight, to work) led to more robust units (“Generation 2”) which came into use during the Gulf War in 1991 and were a great improvement over the earlier generations. At the dawn of the 21st century, “Generation 3” NVG made its debut, but is now being superseded by the latest military models, vari- ously known as “Generation 3+” or “Generation 4” – lighter units that have better optical characteristics and greater longevity than previous models.


HELICOPTER NIGHT OPERATIONS It has long been known that wildfires “lay down” at night,


becoming more quiescent as temperatures drop and humidi- ty increases. Unfortunately, air operations on wildfires all but cease as nightfall approaches. State and federal restrictions require that aerial firefighters land 30 minutes before sunset and remain grounded until 30 minutes after sunrise. Some fire agencies, however, are not satisfied with this sit-


uation and have explored how to better fight fires at night. Night Vision Goggles (NVG) offer the best hope not only of fighting fires, but also allowing night rescue operations as well. As the military continued improving NVG for combat,


firefighting agencies also began experimenting with NVG. In 1973, Congress approved special funds for the USDA Forest Service (USFS) to investigate new techniques which


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