When darkness falls, life support helps aircrew find their way

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Dorothy Goepel
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
This is part two of a three-part series on C-17 and NVG training at Altus Air Force Base.

In 2003, Altus Air Force Base made preparations to deliver formal night vision goggle training to aircrews enrolled in the C-17 school here. 

The 97th Operation Support Squadron Life Support Flight initially ordered 54 helmet-mounted, battery operated night vision goggles plus test equipment and tools, according to Master Sgt. John Jarvis, Life Support Program manager, who oversees training and instruction of aircrews at Altus.
The NVGs give operators "improved situational awareness during periods of low natural illumination," per manufacturer ITT Industries. The NVGs are designed to amplify ambient light from sources such as the moon, stars and sky glow so scenes are visible at night to the operator. The goggles are adjustable and can be flipped up, away from the eyes during an emergency or when not in use.
In July of this year, Altus upgraded to a new model of NVGs called the F4949G-TG and now has 63 pairs of NVGs for training. The new NVGs look and operate the same as the older model but use an updated image intensifier tube, explained Captain Eric R. Bippert, Life Support Flight commander. "The image the user sees in the -TG model will look the same [as the older model] under normal illumination conditions, but it is under extremely dark or extremely light conditions that the user will see improvements," he said. 

The Life Support Flight at Altus is responsible for maintaining the NVGs and providing the facilities for aircrew members to preflight their NVGs prior to flying. C-17 students arrive at Life Support an hour prior to their show time at the squadron to do their NVG preflights. In an NVG dark room, operators adjust their night vision goggles to their eyesight. 

Senior Airman Clint C. Scott assists the student-pilots. In one preflight, Airman Scott put a counter balance on the rear of the operator's helmet since the night vision goggles, positioned in the front, were weighing the helmet down. The counter balance helped to relieve the operator from neck strain. Airman Scott also helped the operator adjust two monoculars (one on the left and one on the right) on the NVGs. As well, he emphasized the importance of adjusting the front focus first. The rear focus, once adjusted, was not to be touched again. "If it's sighted incorrectly, it'll degrade the wearer's vision after a period of time," he said. 

"Many people do not realize the amount of work that goes into preparing NVGs and other life support equipment before flights," said Captain Bippert. "Many man-hours are spent to ensure the equipment is in tip-top shape and work as advertised, every time. As the name 'Life Support' goes, people's lives are at stake and there's no room for error. Oxygen masks have to work if there's a loss of pressurization or smoke in the aircraft and as a pilot, you don't want NVGs failing on you, especially in critical phases of flight."
"Working in Life Support at Altus is especially demanding," Captain Bippert pointed out, "because Altus has three different major weapon systems or models of aircraft and the life support requirements for each is different."
"None of the training here at Altus could happen without the outstanding leadership of the NCOs and hard work of the technicians in my flight," Captain Bippert said. "I like to remind them what a significant impact they have on the flying operations here."