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Bug Displays The Military United Kingdom

RAF Pilots Blinded At 1000 Mph By Helmet Technical Glitch 154

Posted by timothy
from the heads-up dept.
codeusirae writes "RAF pilots were left 'blinded' by a barrage of images while flying at speeds of over 1,000 mph when a number of technical glitches hit their high-tech helmets. The visors were supposed to provide the fighter pilots with complete vision and awareness, but problems with the display produced a blurring known as 'green-glow,' meaning they were unable to see clearly.The green glow occurred when a mass of information was displayed on the helmet-mounted display systems, including radar pictures and images from cameras mounted around the aircraft."
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RAF Pilots Blinded At 1000 Mph By Helmet Technical Glitch

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  • by nikhilhs (1292298) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:37PM (#45320073)
    Glitches happen. I'd assume there's an easy to reach switch that would make the visor of the helmet transparent.
  • Sir (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ogive17 (691899) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:44PM (#45320107)
    They've gone into plaid
  • by ls671 (1122017) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:46PM (#45320117) Homepage

    Relying exclusively on electronic technology introduce a single point of point of failure. Fly by wires, car ecu etc.

    Not being able to fall back to some kind of manual mechanical control introduces all kinds of vulnerabilities. Whether it is a glitch in the software, solar flares, aliens or something else ;-)

    http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/10/29/208205/toyotas-killer-firmware [slashdot.org]

    http://www.ecutesting.com/toyota.html [ecutesting.com]

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/ufo/8026971/Aliens-have-deactivated-British-and-US-nuclear-missiles-say-US-military-pilots.html [telegraph.co.uk]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fly-by-wire [wikipedia.org]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engine_control_unit [wikipedia.org]

    • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:53PM (#45320177)

      The pilot is already a single point of failure.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @06:04PM (#45320247)

        That's how I approach things: If there's already 1 single point of failure, why not introduce a bunch of others?

      • I would hope that when flying at 1000mph+ the pilot has planned ahead at least several seconds of safe trajectory, even more reaction time than one might need when taxiing, should be more than enough time to get the unexpectedly distracting HUD switched off. I'd actually be more worried for safety if the pilot became suddenly and unexpectedly vision impaired while rolling to a parking space on a carrier, than at 1000mph+ in the sky.

        • by Cederic (9623)

          The RAF do train at below-horizon altitudes. Several seconds of clear air in front of you isn't guaranteed in such situations, and that's assuming you stay level.

          Of course, the easy response is to pull up..

          • by kermidge (2221646)

            "Of course, the easy response is to pull up.."

            Yes. If, of course, by the time you've decided the 'green screen' isn't going to fix itself, you still know where up is.

      • The US has started a program to convert some of the old F-14's to pilot less drones instead of just scrapping them. Without a pilot the current generation of fighters could utilize all the performance built in to the air frame.

        • by delt0r (999393)
          But people like the idea of people in them. Why i do not know. But we like it so much, that even in the far distant future we still think having squishy meat bags that pass out with small 9g of load is a good idea.
          • There are various pros and cons to drone controlled and human controlled aircraft. The human can't be hacked is one of pros for human flight.
            • If I were a jet fighter pilot I would be getting worried about my future as a military aviator. Some how I don't think sitting on the ground operating a drone provides the same level of excitement. The pilot is becoming more of a passenger these days. The modern generation of stealth fighters and bombers such as the B-2 are literally impossible to fly by a mere human.

              • by cwsumner (1303261)

                ... The modern generation of stealth fighters and bombers such as the B-2 are literally impossible to fly by a mere human.

                They said that about helicopters, a long time ago before they had fly-by-wire. Even hobby RC-pilots could learn to fly them, and that was before the "smart" toys they have now.
                (But that doesn't mean it was easy...)

                • The B-2 cannot be flown without fly by wire. The B-117 was in the same category. Both of these planes as well as today's jet fighter craft would never have been built if a human pilot was required.

            • by delt0r (999393)
              Hack? Seriously... Don't use a drone. Use the same software that they use in simulators. Sober fighter pilots know their days are numbered.
          • by ls671 (1122017)

            Edmonton, Alberta, Canada had pilot less suburb trains in 1981, maybe before.

            I agree with your questioning since I have seen so many times on TV major civilian carrier planes crashing because of pilot errors. Some pilots had 30 years+ of flying experience but they fucked-up due to lack of training with new technologies more often than new technologies screwed up.

            RAF pilots on principle shouldn't be taken as bozos although, like in the civilian cases I have reviewed but who knows?

      • > The pilot is already a single point of failure.

        Following that logic, so is the plane.

    • by Luckyo (1726890) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @06:03PM (#45320241)

      Fly by wire has multiple redundancies. It's not a single point of failure any more than hydraulic control system is.

      • by felipekk (1007591) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @06:49PM (#45320543) Journal

        He means that the whole system depends on "electronics". For him a better option would be electronics + hydraulics as a backup or something. In any case, the story is about the helmet. The pilot can always take it off...

        • He means that the whole system depends on "electronics".

          "Air" is also a single point of failure, then. As is "metal".

          • by peragrin (659227)

            Fuel is an even more dangerous point of failure. I mean carrying around explosive burn liquids while traveling at high speed doesn't make any sense.

        • Hydraulics is fine for a dumb servo, like power steering in a car.

          Fly by wire is an entirely different thing. You can't substitute the former for the latter.

          • by felipekk (1007591)

            The problem is that you have to. Nowadays the fighter jets have become so complex to fly, with so many control surfaces, that a pilot would not be able to do it by himself. So he tells the computer what he wants to do, and the computer interprets and responds by changing the surfaces.

            • I'm perfectly aware of what fly by wire is, thank you.

              I'm also aware of what former and latter mean.

        • ... the helmet. The pilot can always take it off...

          Can he? I mean, in practical terms? The space is small, hands are needed on the controls, it's the main display screen . . . it may not be even possible, let alone a good idea at high speed. And if it is, then you've got a big heavy helmet loose waiting to conk the pilot in the face on the next turn.

    • by jklovanc (1603149) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @07:09PM (#45320665)

      You really need to learn more about modern aircraft. When an aircraft is designed there is a trade off between stability and maneuverability. The more stable something is the less maneuverable it is. Today's aircraft are very unstable and very manuverable. Electronocs allow that becouse they can make the thousands of control inputs per second to keep the aircraft stable. Most modern fighters would fly apart of if the electronics failed even if there were mechanical backups.

      By the way, the backup for the visor failing is lift the visor and use the cockpit readouts.

      • by EdIII (1114411) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @08:53PM (#45321263)

        By the way, the backup for the visor failing is lift the visor and use the cockpit readouts.

        Of course they did that. I don't know who would assume otherwise. Do you think, while shitting their pants, that they continued to go +1000mph without lifting their visors?

        The problem still remains. In the middle of a dog fight is not where you want to have to lift your visor that gave you all those nifty capabilities. Cockpit readouts cannot replace those abilities either as the advantage is not the same. Instead of being inside the helmet they should really consider making the glass around the cockpit the interface itself. Graceful failure allows the glass to be transparent. Or they could make the glass in the visor do the same thing. Lifting not required. Worse case scenario there is a button easily accessible that cuts all power to the display systems turning them transparent more or less instantly.

        Plus, imagine if Clint Eastwood in Firefox accidentally restarted the system and it wanted him to think in Chinese? I would be fucked cuz the only thing I could reliably think about in Chinese is found on a menu.

        It's not so much about redundancy as it is graceful failure in situations like this.

        • by Sperbels (1008585) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @09:08PM (#45321361)

          In the middle of a dog fight is not where you want to have to lift your visor that gave you all those nifty capabilities.

          Dogfight? What century do you think this is? I'm not really an expert, but my understanding of modern air battles is that they launch missiles at each other from extremely long distances.

          • Dogfight? What century do you think this is? I'm not really an expert, but my understanding of modern air battles is that they launch missiles at each other from extremely long distances.

            That's what they thought would happen around the time of the Vietnam war. They even went so far as to remove the guns from the fighter aircraft. Turned out they were full of shit. Missiles did not eliminate the need for air combat maneuvering (aka a dogfight) and actually put their pilots at a disadvantage at times. These lessons were a big part of the reason why pilot schools like TOPGUN [wikipedia.org] were created. Even the most modern fighters like the F22 [wikipedia.org] carry onboard 20mm cannons to this day.

        • Having met some helicopter pilots (in connection with secure communications testing), I've always thought that one of the things separating military pilots from normal people is that they have personalities that respond to "I'm going to die now" as "well, wtf do I do next?" rather than shitting their pants.
    • by dbIII (701233)
      One really fun example from a while back was the C4 Galaxy and autoadjustment of the rudder on the tail - a huge control surface. The autoadjustment was set up for testing before the gyro was running. Apparently that's how the testers found out the natural frequency of the plane was about 4 Hz - with that huge rudder flapping back and forth four times a second trying to shake the entire airframe apart on it's stands. The guy who told me worked on that project (as a junior engineer) and is now Dean of Eng
    • Relying exclusively on electronic technology introduce a single point of point of failure. Fly by wires, car ecu etc.

      Fly/Drive-by-wire only has a single point of failure if you design it that way. Fly-by-Wire systems are regularly designed to be multiply redundant [wikipedia.org] or even have mechanical backups. Because fly-by-wire is typically lighter it is often possible to have more safety systems in place. Mechanical systems despite seeming dependable are often actually less reliable if you actually bother to check the data. It's all in how the product is designed. Sometimes a single point of failure is the only option but more

    • Relying exclusively on mechanical technology introduces a single point of point of failure. Relying on electronic and mechanical technology to work together seamlessly to prevent failure introduces a complexity that increases risk of failure. There is no perfect world.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hard to focus on flying when your helmet has a green glow

    • by Bob_Who (926234)

      Hard to focus on flying when your helmet has a green glow

      That's what I was thinking at the last Grateful Dead concert I attended. Trippy green glowing helmets can be distracting during flight!

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        If you want some trippy shit try turning on the motion blur effect in VLC media player. If you're trashed, hammered, and unsure what reality actually is after Halloween, it gets very interesting with motion blur on.

  • So the helmet is providing these signals throughout the whole flight, that they're up to 1,000 mph never has any weight in the article. I don't get it. It's a helmet, why test it in Florida if you're going to use it in England? And why scrap a project based on such a small problem? Much like the helmet, the article isn't clear. Maybe I'm blinded, too.
    • by khallow (566160)
      Because the training facility is in Florida along with the helmets and airplanes.
    • by JeffOwl (2858633)
      This isn't the first problem with the helmet. They aren't scrapping the helmet idea, just the one from BAE Systems. They are going with a helmet from a team of Rockwell Collins and Elbit.
    • by sjames (1099) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @07:20PM (#45320749) Homepage

      TFA didn't explain the problem well enough. It's not some sort of malfunction that goes away when you punch reset. It's a design issue that happens any (and every) time it tries to display too much information at once. It's the light from the display that creates the problem, just like a TV lighting a darkened room.

      The workaround is to display less information. Probably that would cause a political issue as someone's favorite kitchen sink gets relegated to the panel display.The open question: is it still useful once they remove enough displayed information to let the pilot see.

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        With as much money is involved, I honestly don't understand why:

        1) It's not done in the cockpit glass itself. We have the tech for that. Add a couple of Kinect like sensors and you can know where the pilot is looking to adjust the display. I'm not an expert, but I think that would account for the position of the pilot's eyes and what he is actually looking at. Perhaps an overlay on the pilot's dominant eye that is always transparent and only used to detect proper viewing angles. Heck, why not use Google Gla

      • Or maybe add a dimmer switch? For £30mil they should be able to swing for something that's been standard on every display screen ever since the invention of screens...

      • Ahhh. Well now that it's explained, it's clear that I was misunderstanding the point of the article. Thanks for clearing that up. Also, you got +5 interesting, and you should have +5 informative.
      • Wasn't "display less information" the solution back in the 1970s? The then-new planes had meters and readouts for everything, and a few test pilots insisted that some of them should go back to idiot lights red/yellow/green at the most.
  • On their HUDs. Hard to fly at 1000 MPH when there's a horny old man chasing a blond in a miniskirt across your visor.
  • Amber CRTs are easier on the eyes...

    • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @06:47PM (#45320533)
      Yeah, but it hurts your neck to strap the amber CRT to your head.
    • by PPH (736903)

      If its 'information overload', perhaps they should be using color displays. It might be better to separate different information types or alert levels by color.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        If its 'information overload', perhaps they should be using color displays. It might be better to separate different information types or alert levels by color.

        The problem of this is the nature of the display.

        HUDs aren't green because it's convenient, but because they're easy on night vision (it takes time to acclimate to the darkness of a cockpit and blinding bright lights are a great way to ruin it). Additionally, a HUD works because it's only reflective to the color of the display (because the data is pr

        • by PPH (736903)

          HUDs aren't green because it's convenient, but because they're easy on night vision

          There is some disagreement on this. The rods in the human eye are more sensitive to lower levels of green light than red. Resolution is better, but green will reduce human night vision more so than red at higher illumination levels.

          Green is more compatible with military night vision equipment, as that is more sensitive at the red and near infrared wavelengths. However, this isn't an issue with helmet HUDs as the light doesn't leak out and back into the night vision optics.

          Likewise (as you pointed out) hel

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      Amber CRTs are easier on the eyes...

      That's what I thought until I got into Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Everything looked yellow for a week.

  • So what did you do today?

    Oh nothing, just flew 1000 MPH completely blind.
  • by jcaplan (56979) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @06:45PM (#45320515) Journal
    So after reading the article, it was quite hard to tell whether the problem was information overload or a buggy display system. The relevant quote is:

    âoeBut for now, thereâ(TM)s only so much data you can put in front of the pilotâ(TM)s eyes before it all merges, especially at night. He or she has got to take in information about their speed, altitude, dive and climb angles, and manage their fuel levels and weapons systems. Add images of the surrounding airspace and it all becomes too much. Essentially, the pilots were being blinded.â

    The reporter seems to take the phrase "green glow" literally, rather than figuratively. The blinding referred to in the quote is information overload. The 1,000 mph figure seems merely illustrative, rather than a point at which the helmets suddenly malfunctioned. Information overload is a serious problem for pilots and must be considered in aircraft design, but this appears to be a case of poor design rather than the display failing in mid flight. Perhaps someone out there has better information.
    • "So after reading the article, it was quite hard to tell whether the problem was information overload or a buggy display system" ..

      What's the difference ?
      • by jcaplan (56979)
        The difference is in the type of defect. Information overload can be the result of a *design* defect, where the design specification doesn't adequately take into account how much data a trained pilot can absorb. (Alternately, it could be the result of inadequate pilot training.) A buggy display system is an *implementation* defect, where the display doesn't show what was intended by the programmers, such as the display showing a random bit pattern rather than fight data.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Information overload is easy to come by in a cockpit. I work with avionics equipment, and I get to talk to pilots fairly regularly. By and large, they all like glass cockpits over the old, analog alternative. It makes the panel in front of them look cleaner, and they can navigate pages using mouse-like controllers(of course this depends on whether the manufacturer of their displays also produces such a controller).

      When it's all said and done, though, the pilots I've talked to say they only use a small fr

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @08:46PM (#45321227)

    I have flown with the current generation Joint Helmet Mounted Cuing System (JHMCS) not the F-35 system, but here is what I can tell you.

    1- JHMCS has a one button HOTAS blanking. I am sure F-35 has the something similar. Which means if the symbology gets to be too much you can blank it with a single button push and you are back to a regular old airplane. With JHMCS you will be in a fighter with a HUD for backup, like F-15 or FA-18, while in F-35 you will have to rely on your head-down display, but the airplane keeps flying just fine at 150Kts, 500Kts, 1000kts. It really doesn't matter.

    2- The article doesn't really address the fundamental problem. F-35 was designed for the helmet to be the primary flight reference (main instrument), and has no HUD. Like I said, I fly with JHMCS, and it is an awesome tool. The advantage of being able to point your weapon system wherever you look, and likewise have your weapon system point your eyes on target can not be overstated. That being said, it is not good enough to fly instruments. Pointing errors, alignment problems, finicky connectors, etc. are more than just trivial technical problems to be solved. Small shifts or changes in sitting height make minor (0.5 to 1 degree) pointing errors. I routinely adjust alignment at least 2 times a flight.

    The decision to have no HUD was (as I understand) based on weight, and it was a bad one. We were putting HUDs+gyros in airplanes for a couple generations before we trusted the HUD alone to be the Primary Flight Reference. Should have done the same thing with helmets.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Lets be honest, the whole F-35 project has failure/error in design and decisions written all over it. The idea is nice but that says it all really.

  • Soooo reading slashdot is just like flying 1000 mph?

  • There's a disclaimer right on the sunglasses that reads "Do not download the interesect while piloting your aircraft".
  • I fly single engine propeller aircraft with a Vne (Velocity never exceed) of maybe 220mph, but cruising generally about 130mph. The idea of losing vision at that speed is pretty horrible, but at 1000mph it would be terrifying no matter how experienced or brave you are.

    When Chuck Yeager was flying the X-1 one time his windows froze up and he could not see out, but at least he still had instruments and landed safely with the help of his chase plane. Not being able to actually see is a big level above that.

  • I only read the synopsis... did they get directed to an adult website without pop-up blocker enabled?
  • in 2011 BEA was hired to development an alternate helmet. Basically the contractor developing the original helmet was falling behind so BEA was hired to create one to scare them straight. Pretty common tactic which seems to have worked as the primary helmet seems to be up to snuff now. BEA knew this would be the likely outcome which would explain things perhaps not being up to snuff.
  • The link to the Independent appears broken and all I can find is a story in the Daily Mail which seems to be a bit of a rag: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2485533/Technical-fault-left-RAF-pilots-unable-flying-100-million-aircraft.html#comments [dailymail.co.uk]

    Can anyone tell when the "blinding" incident actually happened? Daily Mail appears to imply the BAE helmet program was de-funded as a result but there's no way the government could move that fast.

  • I'm shocked. Shocked and dismayed.

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