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05-18-08, 11:46 AM
Shedding some light on vision at night

By Natasha Lee, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, May 19, 2008

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron recently launched two new courses aimed at improving night-vision goggle use.

The courses target airmen in 18th Security Forces and aircrews that handle flight equipment.

The classes are to get airmen comfortable using the goggles, particularly those deploying into combat situations, said lead instructor Capt. Alex Ramos, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron.

Night-vision goggles, or NVGs, rely on reflective light to provide enhanced vision in almost total darkness.

"We have to have the best and be able to optimize our performance," Ramos said. "The enemies could have similar technologies, but we know how to use them better."

Ramos is the director of the Aerospace Physiology Night Imaging and Threat Evaluation lab, and he helped develop the courses. The four-hour courses were prompted by concerns from airmen over difficulties in using the goggles. While NVGs improve an airman’s ability to see at night, they do not provide perfect vision, officials have said.

Power lines, posts and towers can be tough for pilots to see at night, even with NVGs, because of the lack of illuminated light, Ramos said. Shadows, terrain and too much light, such as car headlights, add to the challenges of night missions.

For pilots, spatial disorientation, or misperception of direction, is another major threat when flying with NVGs, Ramos said. Pilots wearing NVGs have to perform frequent crosschecks — using the NVG to look outside the cockpit and their "naked eye" to view instruments inside the plane — which can be tricky.

"Essentially, they are confirming that what they ‘see’ is what the aircraft is actually doing," Ramos said.

The classes arm airmen with techniques and devices, such as infrared markers, light filters and finger lights, that help compensate for some of the NVGs’ shortfalls.

Instructors use video and a terrain replica board to demonstrate how to recognize potential hazards and overcome them. Chief Master Sgt. De Andre Latham, a 26-year veteran and security forces manager with the 18th Security Forces Squadron, said the training was helpful.

"This was especially good to know because it should prevent forces from getting a false sense of security when on patrol using this equipment," Latham said in an e-mail to Stripes.

Both courses run the gamut, from how to use NVGs to the science of night-vision technology.

"It’s like building a watch, piece by piece; at the end of the day, you know how to tell time," Ramos said. He hopes to train servicemembers throughout the Pacific Air Forces. In June, the squadron will train 15 soldiers with the 247th Military Police Detachment at Torii Station, Okinawa, he said.