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— Air-Evac helicopters are now equipped with night-vision technology which makes it possible for Air-Evac to fly more safely and in more situations, pilot Howard Anderson told Decatur Firefighters.

An Air-Evac helicopter from the Springdale base touched down in Decatur on Sept. 1, just as darkness was beginning fall, to show firefighters the new goggles.

The Decatur Fire Department often works with Air-Evac on accident scenes and sets up landing zones for the helicopters. Learning about the new technology will help firefighters understand the flight crews' needs and the capabilities and limitations of the night-vision goggles.

The new goggles use modified United States Military technology and cost about $12,000 per pair, Anderson said.

"You may have heard 'the U.S. Military owns the night.' This is why," he said. No other country has night vision technology that is comparable to the Unites States, Anderson said, even Israel is a distant second.

The same technology that gives the U.S. an advantage on the battlefield helps the air ambulance saves lives by allowing the helicopter to fly and land in more situations.

Anderson said he recently flew 75 miles in Texas without seeing any lights on the horizon under a dark cloud cover with the help of the goggles.

"They allow us to do things safely that we normally couldn't do," Anderson said.

Humans are legally blind at night, Anderson said, but the binocular goggles give pilots 20/20 vision. The technology is so good, it even allows pilots to read license plates from the air, he said.

In order to land with night vision technology, the pilot and paramedic each have binocular night vision goggles attached to their helmets. The flight nurse has monocular goggles - with one lens - to provide an extra set of eyes for the pilot.

All three people are required to have goggles to land using night vision, Anderson explained. Ifone person's goggles fail, the crew has to pull out and land with full landing lights.

"If we ever call you and say we have to abort this landing and do it with lights, that's why," Anderson told the firemen.

Although the goggles allow the crew to fly on the blackest of nights, the Air-Evac helicopter is still grounded by fog. The night vision goggles do not improve visibility in fog at all, Anderson said. He cited an example of a recent incident when thehelicopter flew to Decatur to pick up a patient but was unable to land because of the dense morning fog.

After dark fell, Anderson allowed each Decatur firefighter to try on the night-vision goggles and look at one of the fire departments landing lights to get an idea of what the pilot can see.

Air-Evac has been training regularly with the Decatur Fire Department and is planning another training session at the Sept. 15 fire meeting.

News, Pages 1, 2 on 09/09/2009

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