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Night vision course helps train trainers

  • Published
  • By Robert Goetz
  • Joint Base San Antonio -- Randolph Public Affairs
Night-vision goggles are an important tool for pilots and ground forces in low-light environments, so it's vital they learn how to properly use them.

A course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph provides advanced instruction to Airmen already familiar with NVGs so they can go back to their units and share their knowledge with novice NVG users.

"The Air Force Night-Vision Goggle Academic Instructor Course is required for aircrew flight equipment specialists and anyone who teaches initial NVG training," 1st Lt. Shannon Scannon, 359th Aerospace-Medicine Squadron Aerospace Physiology Flight instructor, said. "Students come from every command - they include aircrew members, physiologists, optometrists and flight surgeons."

The 12-hour course, which is typically offered every other month, is divided into seven instruction blocks - eye physiology in the night environment, technology, focus/adjustment procedures, NVG demonstrations, operating environment, misperception and illusions, and human factors, Scannon said.

"In eye physiology, we teach how the eye works in a nighttime environment, requirements for people who wear eyeglasses and other topics," she said. "In the technology portion, we address physics, chemistry and engineering and how the NVG technology works."

Course instructors employ several pieces of equipment, including the Hoffman 20/20 Box, which is used to properly adjust a set of NVGs before a mission, and a virtual terrain board, or VTB, which projects an image from a photograph of an actual place onto a screen in a blacked-out classroom. The image can be manipulated to show different stages of nighttime illumination, from total darkness to a full moon.

"For NVGs to be effective devices, there needs to be about 50 percent illumination at night, or the light produced during a quarter moon," Scannon said. "They're actually less effective with more light and are not effective in dark environments such as caves. They work best in a high-contrast environment like a forest or jungle, not as well in a desert."
Scannon said the course uses the latest version of the VTB, which has a wider screen and more information.

"It has more dynamic effects and is more realistic," she said. "But it's not a requirement for the course. It shows what an operational environment can be like. It could be a great tool to use in a pre-brief before they fly."

Scannon, who is one of four instructors, said the course emphasizes the risks involved in using NVGs, or the "human factors," which include fatigue and spatial disorientation.

"Operators may not know the limiting factors of NVGs, so we want the instructors we train to tell them the dangers of NVGs before they ever step into an aircraft," she said.

Scannon said teaching the dangers of NVGs is important because knowing its limitations can reduce the rate of accidents partly attributed to their use.

"You need to have an appreciation for how dangerous they can be," she said. "NVGs help paint the picture better, but you should also look with the naked eye. They're a great device, but you should not over-rely on them."

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Benjamin Franklin, who took the most recent course last week, called the course "very informative, up to date and expertly presented."

"The training brought back fond memories of my own aviation experiences piloting rotary wing aircraft," he said. "It also demonstrated how advanced technologically the NVG is and how the technology is constantly improving."

Franklin, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Medical Education and Training Campus director of ophthalmic technician training for the Air Force and Army, said all eye-care providers and technicians should have the opportunity to take this course.

"It stresses visual components of acuity and binocular vision, our fields of expertise, but it also explains how visual acuity and binocular vision is utilized with NVGs, especially how degraded it can become if not properly adjusted before missions," he said. "You cannot own the night, find, fix, take out the enemy and accomplish your mission if you cannot see them."