Elbit America highlights X-Sight capabilities
Recent flights reveal system’s ability to provide unprecedented situational awareness for helicopter pilots
April 3, 2023
In a series of flights above Huntsville, Ala. in March 2023, key customers and partners of Elbit Systems of America (Elbit America) were immersed in a holistic situational awareness experience with real-time fused tactical pictures right before their eyes while wearing a next generation Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) system called X-Sight.
Users flew X-Sight in real-world environments to see how integrated battle-space awareness can aid pilots with increased decision-making speed and enhanced safety, especially important for the unique concepts of operation for rotary wing platforms. Helicopter pilots contend with complex challenges in flight, often rapidly navigating a maze of potential obstacles and threats during their mission. And margins for error can be significantly decreased when flying in reduced or Degraded Visual Environments (DVE) such as fog, rain, snow, and blowing sand. Elbit America invented X-Sight to not only address those hazards, but to enable pilots to leverage those hazards for tactical advantage.
X-Sight provides a much wider field of view than current systems and enables pilots to fly safely near obstacles such as trees and power lines. Additionally, X-Sight provides an integrated night vision camera, negating the need for traditional night vision goggles. Whether flying through poor weather or in the dark of night, the pilot’s visor provides the critical information they need to complete their mission effectively and return home safely. X-Sight’s ability to create a seamless picture for both of a pilot’s eyes on the visor with near-zero latency is a tremendous advantage over legacy monocle systems currently in use by helicopter pilots across the military.
Leveraging the legacy of the groundbreaking F-35 HMD, a first-of-its-kind solution in the world’s first 21st century fighter jet, X-Sight is optimized for tactical, low-altitude helicopter operations. Affixed to a standard helmet, the X-Sight system conducts data fusion from multiple sensors, databases, and networks into a low-latency comprehensive world model that’s displayed onto the HMD visor, providing unprecedented situational awareness.
X-Sight is compatible with the AH-64E Apache fleet across the United States Army and Army National Guard and the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) platforms — Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) — managed by the U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office Aviation, based at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
The ability to display real-time activity is another feature the X-Sight provides. Friendly and enemy positions can be transmitted and displayed via tactical data links such as Blue Force Tracker 2 and Link-16. With X-Sight’s high definition and full color resolution, the aircrew can immediately identify threats to avoid or engage as appropriate. Down-pilot position can be displayed for immediate extraction, or last-minute LZ changes will appear.
“With X-Sight, we enable the pilot to keep their head up and eyes out,” said Eric “Delta” Burke, a Senior Director for Vertical Lift Business Development & Strategy at Elbit America and a former military pilot.
According to Burke, with critical information presented in the pilot’s visor, there’s no need for them to look around the cockpit at various sensors and displays in flight. Their heads remain upright, and they can see outside the rotorcraft, focused on their flying, obstacles, and other aircraft. A pilot’s situational awareness – their understanding of what is going on around them and their aircraft – is increased exponentially and missions can continue, even in DVE.
Information presented within the X-Sight HMD is continuously refreshed in a seamless manner. Burke said, “Having the system tracked with your head’s line-of-sight as well as the other pilots’ line-of-sight is a game changer. What used to take 20- to 30-seconds of describing a point of interest or hazard is now done by the other pilots’ line of sight symbology.”
The backend of the X-Sight system is an innovative recipe that incorporates neural networks and sophisticated algorithms, multiple databases of information on terrain, satellite data, and inputs coming from a variety of sensors.
Matthew Boyer, an Artificial Intelligence Engineering Manager at Elbit America explained how the X-Sight HMD system is sensor agnostic. “The system can receive data from LiDAR, RADAR, and other sensors aboard a helicopter’s payload. Our goal is to seamlessly fuse these elements to provide as much information as possible to a pilot, while reducing their workload.”
Boyer, who’s worked on the program for four years, explained that achieving fidelity without latency in the projection onto the X-Sight visor “is a really hard thing to do well.”
Boyer has spent more than 30 hours in flight calibrating the helmet himself. He also noted how the engineering team actively updates its databases with every test flight that’s conducted, which now amounts to more than 500 hours.
Boyer’s also been key in creating connections among company partners who create the rugged, yet robust sensors that can augment the system, such as Arete who provides the LiDAR that flew in the recent flights in Huntsville.
During X-Sight demonstration flights, Elbit America Systems Engineer Eddie Huddleston rides in the back of the helicopter and is able to manipulate the various views projected onto the HMD visor from a computer connected to the test system. He frequently enjoys the excitement of users’ first experience of X-Sight’s augmented reality overlay where complicated terrain, symbology, and obstacles are all projected upon the visor in a simple, easy to understand manner.
Huddleston shared, “That’s the fun part when I instantly transform the landscape outside into an easily navigable and intuitive world for the pilot. What was previously obscured is now clearly visible through all the elements synthesized into the X-Sight.”
Elbit America is a long-time supplier of HMDs and other avionics to the U.S. military and others. The company also produces other game-changing technologies that are dedicated to ground warfare, border security, medical instrumentation and more. The 30-year-old company is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas.
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