One of the most unique courses available at Mauna Loa Helicopters is the Night Vision Goggle course. No matter how seasoned the pilot, flying at night poses extra risks in all phases of flight due to a dramatic decrease in visibility, depth perception, and terrain & obstacle identification.
Night Vision Goggles, or NVGs, are mounted onto Top-Gun style flight helmets and worn during night operations to mitigate these risks. NVGs drastically improve the pilot’s ability to operate safely and make decisions as confidently as they would during the day. NVG training on the Hawaiian Islands is an incredibly valuable experience due to specific flying conditions that exist here. The Big Island, in particular, has a very limited amount of streetlights and lighted signs, meaning we get much less light interference than larger suburban areas or major cities. With 13 telescopes on top of the summit of Mauna Kea, streetlights would cause light pollution and hinder the ability to study the stars. While the Big Island is the perfect place to stargaze, it’s also the perfect place to master the skill of night vision flying for these same reasons. NVGs operate much better without the glare of artificial lighting one would expect in more light-polluted areas, allowing the pilot increased visibility. Combine this with the mountainous terrain that makes up the islands, and the perfect recipe is created for a safe, yet challenging experience.
Bronson Koscielski, a student at Mauna Loa and recent NVG trainee explained his experience with the course. “The first time I put them on I remember seeing every detail; stars, clouds, parked jets, boats on the water. It was an extraordinary experience to fly at night and have such good vision. Comparing the NVG experience to that of sitting in the back without goggles (while other students flew their NVG training), is a night and day difference.”
Mauna Loa Helicopters has invested in state of the art night vision equipment to provide the highest quality training experience. NVG training is conducted in the Robinson R44, professionally modified to allow the use of NVGs per the goggle manufacturer’s aircraft specifications. Our instructors are endorsed by the Federal Aviation Administration to teach our NVG course, and will be seated alongside the trainee with a pair of goggles of their own, increasing safety and emphasizing Crew Resource Management. Typically encouraged while building time to meet the commercial requirements, NVG training combines all of the skills previously learned throughout flight training. Proficiency is accomplished when the pilot can perform all of the basic and advanced flight maneuvers normally practiced during day VFR, including all of the emergency procedures. There are a few maneuvers and emergency procedures specific to NVG training as well, which we won’t reveal too much about.
Training in Night Vision Goggle operations at Mauna Loa is offered under Part 61 and Part 141, so the choice in course is up to the student. Mauna Loa provides all of the equipment necessary for NVG flight, including helmets, and students are encouraged to complete the related ground training via a computer-based training course prior to getting in the helicopter. After successful completion of the course, the student receives a Night Vision Goggle Pilot in Command logbook endorsement and the confidence and ability to fly using NVG equipment.
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“The most memorial experience I had during training was during the cross country to Waimea where I witnessed a couple shooting stars light up the sky over the top of Mauna Kea,” explains Koscielski. “This is an amazing training opportunity with the MLH twist of being ridiculously fun. … You won’t find this experience anywhere else, its unique to MLH and Hawaii.”