Journal Published Online: 21 October 2013
Volume 42, Issue 1

Experimental Flight Testing of Night Vision Imaging Systems in Military Fighter Aircraft



This paper describes the research and experimental flight test activities conducted by the Italian Air Force Official Test Centre (RSV), in collaboration with Alenia Aermacchi and Cranfield University, in order to confer night vision imaging systems (NVIS) capability to the Italian TORNADO Interdiction and Strike and Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance aircraft. The activities included design, development, test, and evaluation activities, including night vision goggle (NVG) integration, cockpit instruments, and external lighting modifications, as well as various ground test sessions and a total of 18 flight test sorties. RSV and Litton Precision Products were responsible for coordinating and conducting the installation of the internal and external lights. Particularly, an iterative process was established allowing in-site rapid correction of the major deficiencies encountered during the ground and flight test sessions. Both single-ship (day/night) and formation (night) flights were performed, with testing activities shared among the test crews involved, allowing for a redundant examination of the various test items by all participants. An innovative test matrix was developed and implemented by RSV for assessing the operational suitability and effectiveness of the various modifications implemented. Also important was the definition of test criteria for Pilot and Weapon Systems Officer workload assessment during the accomplishment of various operational tasks during NVG missions. Furthermore, the specific technical and operational elements required for evaluating the modified helmets were identified, allowing an exhaustive comparative evaluation of the two proposed solutions (i.e., HGU-55P and HGU-55G modified helmets). The initial compatibility problems encountered were progressively mitigated by incorporating modifications in both front and rear cockpits at various stages of the test campaign. This process allowed considerable enhancement of the TORNADO NVIS configuration, giving good medium- to high-level NVG operational capability to the aircraft. Further developments also include the internal/external lighting for the Italian TORNADO “Mid-Life Update” and other programs such as AMX aircraft internal/external light modification/testing and the activities addressing low-altitude NVG operations with fast jets (e.g., TORNADO, AMX, MB-339CD), with a major issue being the safe ejection of aircrew with NVG and NVG modified helmets. Two options have been identified for solving this problem, namely, the modification of the current Gentex HGU-55 helmets and the design of a new helmet incorporating a reliable NVG connection/disconnection device (i.e., a mechanical system fully integrated in the helmet frame) with embedded automatic disconnection capability in case of ejection. Other relevant issues to be accounted for in these new developments are the helmet dimensions and weight, the NVG usable field of view as a function of eye-relief distance, and the helmet's center of gravity (moment arms) with and without NVG (effect on aircrew fatigue during training and real operational missions).

Author Information

Sabatini, Roberto
Dept. of Aerospace Engineering, Cranfield Univ., Cranfield, Bedford, GB
Richardson, Mark
Cranfield Univ. – DAUK, Shrivenham, Swindon, GB
Cantiello, Maurizio
Air Staff, Italian Ministry of Defense, Rome, IT
Toscano, Mario
Air Staff, Italian Ministry of Defense, Rome, IT
Fiorini, Pietro
Air Staff, Italian Ministry of Defense, Rome, IT
Zammit-Mangion, David
Dept. of Aerospace Engineering, Cranfield Univ., Cranfield, Bedford, GB
Gardi, Alessandro
Dept. of Aerospace Engineering, Cranfield Univ., Cranfield, Bedford, GB
Pages: 17
Price: $25.00
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Stock #: JTE20120339
ISSN: 0090-3973
DOI: 10.1520/JTE20120339