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Thermal imager in British Army Helicopter 1972

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Thermal imager in British Army Helicopter 1972

Old 15th Mar 2020, 10:11
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Thermal imager in British Army Helicopter 1972

I'm trying to track down a reference to an early thermal imaging installation in a British Army helicopter and wondered whether anyone here might be able to help. Date is sometime in period Mar 1971-Mar 1972. Reference simply says "a simple thermal imaging equipment has been flown in an Army helicopter in order to gain experience of forward and downward looking imagery from low level". I suspect this might have been the first trial of a TI in an Army helicopter. The date rules out the FLIR installation in Puma XW234 - that came later. To add to the mystery I have seen an undated photo of a large AGA Thermovision camera mounted in the cabin of a Scout. Not clear if that is the installation in question - although it's side-looking not forward-looking. Any further information on the above gratefully received.
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Old 15th Mar 2020, 11:08
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The 'side looking' Marconi Heli-Tele installation in the British Army Scout [mainly used operationally in Northern Ireland] was dated 1974, that was not a TI camera

In 1970 elements of the Army Air Corps were providing air support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary [RUC]. At a time when the Army was only just in receipt of gyro-stabilised binoculars they started to experiment with the means whereby they could capture and transmit live video pictures from military helicopters flying some distance away from the subject of their interest. What they sought was a Trojan Horse system that was relatively small and capable of being placed so far away from the target that no one would suspect its purpose even if they could see the helicopter that carried it. They failed first time but further experiments in 1972 led to a working system. Either what you have seen has been mistaken for the video system or the sources I asked forgot to mention the TI. I am aware that some of the early stuff was literally a camera suspended by ropes in the door of an unspecified helicopter type. I am unsure whether those early TI cameras were that robust.

The project was eventually taken over by Marconi who came up with the gyro-stabilised Heli-Tele which was shoehorned into the confines of the rear cabin of a standard Westland Scout helicopter. The first time TI was mentioned was 1982 and that was when the Pope visited the UK. That was the first UK civil use of the TI [in an Alouette].

I have just re-read my text and found this section which suggests that your dates may be a mite early....

The military past of the technology has ensured that some elements of the development of thermal imaging have remained veiled. The leading US based supplier of commercial systems, the Portland, Oregon, USA based FLIR Systems Inc [FSI] first developed a commercial TI system as a hand held unit in August 1979. This equipment was used by the California Dept. of Forestry to image forest fires. They soon mounted the hand held unit in a pod on a plane, effectively pre-empting the first Series 1000. First civilian user was shortly afterwards, in 1980; a user on the Pacific Northwest of the USA used the unit on a fixed wing single engine aircraft. Among other things it was used to image the Mount St. Helens volcano eruption. To achieve the necessary coolness to the image sensor they had to pour liquid nitrogen into the system while airborne. The first FSI system sold to law enforcement was in 1981; the purchaser was the Texas Dept. of Law Enforcement. The first Series 1000 unit, a simple unit offering pan and tilt, was produced in 1981 and entered service with the San Bernardino Sheriffís Dept in California. The first Series 2000, arguably the most famous of the early flir units, was in production from 1982. The first user was the US Coast Guard.

Hope this helps.




Last edited by PANews; 15th Mar 2020 at 11:17. Reason: Additional text
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Old 15th Mar 2020, 11:41
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PANnews, thanks very much for the informative reply. The undated Scout installation was definitely a TI. I've managed to attach a pic. In original it's possible to make out the legend "AGA Thermovision" on front of camera. From comparison with other images on-line I'd guess it was a Thermovision 651, which was apparently circa 1965 vintage.


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Old 15th Mar 2020, 12:13
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Wow, that is new to me but has similarities the 1972-4 Marconi system, they used Scout XT634, initially with the observer seat forward and later facing rearwards. As most of my research on this was done and written 20 years ago there is bound to be new stuff out there undicovered on the net [or in this case Rotorheads]. I just found a snippet that stated Texas Instruments created a TI in 1963.... can I find it again? NO!
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Old 15th Mar 2020, 13:10
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To add a bit more information, the existence of the Army helicopter TI installation is reported in the RRE Malvern progress report of 71-72. Whatever the equipment was, I don't believe it was installed by the RRE (since no Scout or other Army helicopter visited Pershore for installation in that time period). The RRE did do some work on a helicopter-borne FLIR in same timeframe, cobbled together from an IRLS and a real-time display - that was flown in Puma XW234 in 1973.

Last edited by redsetter; 15th Mar 2020 at 13:29. Reason: correction
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Old 15th Mar 2020, 13:53
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I have cabin area images of a Wessex being used for the trial installations for both the early fixed Marconi and the later ball version. dated 1972. No idea of the identity though.
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Old 15th Mar 2020, 13:57
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In June 1976 I was asked to go to Malvern to assess the froward looking FLIR fitted to XW234. The resident pilot was a mate of mine so he showed me the kit.

The TV screen was in the cockpit in front of the pilot and for this trip I was going to have the screens in. As the camera was fitted in the hole where the load pole went through they had jacked the aircraft to give everybody room to work. Even more space was available when they retracted the undercarriage. Everything worked so the they gave it back to the ground crew and it was taken outside. They then switched it on again. There was a beautiful picture of the back of the nosewheel. It would only work if the gear was retracted.

The plot was for me to fly it down to Odiham for the wheels to look at it. I started it up, lifted it into the hover and retracted the undercarriage so we could see forwards, only forward as it was fixed.. With Mike as shotgun I started to fly and navigate the system and was lost soon after we crossed the airfield boundary. A rough S/E heading enabled us top pick up the M4 and when this came into view I followed it. None of this keeping right when following a line feature; I had it right in the middle. More by luck then judgement I managed to fly it to Odiham.

Part of it was to try an approach and landing so I did a direct approach to the taxiway by our dispersal. Just by my aiming point they had set up a tactical encampment and the station commander and wheels were showing some VIPs around. They looked up and there was this Puma on late finals with the undercarriage up!

The TV screen was full of people waving and jumping up and down only stopping when I lowered the gear in the hover.

That afternoon I took some of them on a trip so that they could see it in action. Unfortunately as the camera was fixed one had to keep swinging the nose to get some peripheral vision so half of them got airsick.

Mike took the aircraft back and I never heard of that project again.

Last edited by Fareastdriver; 16th Mar 2020 at 11:44.
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Old 16th Mar 2020, 13:37
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Thermal Imaging

For what its worth a pair of thermal imaging night goggles were brought out to Hong Kong in 1971-72 and tried in a Scout at night. One pilot only was picked to try them out. As I remember it he reported considerable difficulties and was glad of the safety pilot.
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Old 16th Mar 2020, 14:42
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Thermal Imaging -- got these from US Truck Dept

Boslandew
At about the same time in N Ireland Our Boss came with these Night Goggles that should be tried out -
previously well used by Truck Drivers in US Mil.
Due to large areas of the Province being in total darkness not liked by many in the Sqn - understand now much much improved.
At the same time an added get lost aid for trial was the Decca Nav device - Dectrack- who remembers that ?
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Old 16th Mar 2020, 17:51
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I was part of the RAFG SH's 2 pilot crew tasked with a "PNG" (Passive Night Goggles) trial, in the early 1980s. Unlike NVGs, they had a face plate which covered the entire upper face, so there was no peripheral vision. One tube was focussed outside, the other on the flight instruments. Only one pilot and the crewman were allowed to use the goggles. The "safety pilot" had to operate using his unaided vision only. We had no compatible external lighting so most of it was done totally lights out because incandescent lighting very badly affected the performance of the PNGs. There were no lights on the ground at landing sites. Internal instrument lighting consisted of "ELPs" (Electro-luminescent Panels) fixed under the coaming, shining down. This meant some instruments were not properly lit because of shadowing. As the safety pilot it was "very interesting" to be aware that the aircraft was entering a confined area such as a clearing in a forest, but being totally unable to see anything other than the instruments. One very dark night I was given control when the handling pilot's goggles "snowflaked" due to lack of light, as we were in the final descent into such a clearing. I took over, switched on the searchlight and was more than a little perturbed to see how close the trees were - probably less than ten feet from the rotor tips. I pulled full power and we climbed out without hitting anything.

How we survived that trial without an accident I can't imagine. Even the RAF's first "NVGs" were a revelation after flying using those awful things; later generation ones were worlds apart.
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Old 16th Mar 2020, 21:00
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I've posted on the AAC Veterans Facebook page. Maybe get some info from there.
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Old 17th Mar 2020, 20:09
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It’s a question of what you class as thermal imagery. I had come across goggles but while we were in Berlin about 83 some bods turned up with a plywood board with lots of bits bolted onto it and a shoulder video type camera and we had to video all the East German and Russian aircraft we saw. The film was very interesting and highly classified at the time.
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Old 18th Mar 2020, 03:40
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Just FYI!


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Old 18th Mar 2020, 03:50
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Originally Posted by PANews View Post
Wow, that is new to me but has similarities the 1972-4 Marconi system, they used Scout XT634, initially with the observer seat forward and later facing rearwards. As most of my research on this was done and written 20 years ago there is bound to be new stuff out there undicovered on the net [or in this case Rotorheads]. I just found a snippet that stated Texas Instruments created a TI in 1963.... can I find it again? NO!

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Old 18th Mar 2020, 10:12
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The Marconi Heli-Tele installed in a trials Scout [a Marconi Photo]

I have quite a few images from these trials, this one uploaded simply because it has not appeared on Rotorheads before [and it is in colour]. This subject was featured in the Nostalgia thread some years ago. As John Eacott indicated there is a complete mark 1 Heli-Tele in the Helicopter Museum but it is not the [email protected] we started with! Unfortunately it is not up front as in the image used. Last time I visited it was tucked away in among other junk as if no-one loved it.
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Old 18th Mar 2020, 11:54
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SHY - I think it was 75 when I did the first trials on Mk 1 PNG with Barry R in NI. I had goggles that could only see outside. Copilot had no gogs and could see the instruments with normal cockpit lighting. So, crew cooperation was fairly demanding as I had no idea of any flight parameters, relying on a commentary from the other seat. This was transit flying and large field landings only. Scary stuff as the images from those early models was not that good (ie dreadful)!
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Old 19th Mar 2020, 11:31
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Michael,

I seem to remember that one Scout in the squadron had Dectrac fitted. I can remember using it one New Years Eve over Armagh ( 1974 I think) Since it was such a clear night and we could see the lights of of the town and the next town it wasn't of great use. As I remember it it gave you the red, green and purple lanes which had to be plotted on a Decca map. Strictly a two man operation.
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Old 20th Mar 2020, 01:34
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Strictly a two man operation.
One was wise to always carry a paper chart in case the Decca Scroll Map decided to come apart at the sticky tape joints.

Then it was all hands on deck....in a Single Pilot Helicopter...either a Wessex or S=58T flying offshore in the UK.

Keeping a hand written notebook of the Decca Coordinates of the various Rigs and Platforms was also a good practice.

You could fly one Arc using a Decometer and wait for the intersecting Arc of a different Decometer.

It actually worked quite well once you accepted you were using a rough equivalent of two DME Arcs with some rather different displays than that of a DME.

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Old 20th Mar 2020, 10:01
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I flew the S58T out of Beccles for two years and well remember the fun? of operating single pilot around the Leman/Inde fields plus rigs in the Dutch sector.

I think the big difference was that the Scout had no form of stabilisation. Operating low-level flying manually all the time using a one-inch map and then transferring to a Decca map and reading the dials was not something I would have attempted unless totally lost. Which of course I never was!! Whats the phrase, temporarily uncertain of precise location?
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Old 20th Mar 2020, 13:44
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Originally Posted by oldbeefer View Post
SHY - I think it was 75 when I did the first trials on Mk 1 PNG with Barry R in NI. I had goggles that could only see outside. Copilot had no gogs and could see the instruments with normal cockpit lighting. So, crew cooperation was fairly demanding as I had no idea of any flight parameters, relying on a commentary from the other seat. This was transit flying and large field landings only. Scary stuff as the images from those early models was not that good (ie dreadful)!
OB, Now you mention it, I think our trial aircraft didn't have ELPs either so I would have had to rely on (almost totally dimmed) white lights on the instrument panel. IIRC, ELPs only came along a few years later when squadron crews began training on NVGs.
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