News & Events

Eye in the Sky

July 17, 2013

The same night vision goggles that are used by the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies are now being used by Hartford Hospital’s LIFE STAR helicopters, one of which is stationed at Backus and managed by the Trauma Center.

Known as NVGs, they will help the LIFE STAR crew navigate uneven terrain and dangerous obstacles in the dark of night, all with the added pressure of transporting critically ill or injured patients.

The critical care helicopter service recently purchased three sets of night vision goggles. When in flight all three crewmembers, which include the pilot, nurse and respiratory therapist, wear NVGs.

The nurse and respiratory therapist serve as two more sets of eyes to alert the pilot of any safety concerns.

A helicopter pilot since 1995, LIFE STAR Lead Pilot Sean Rorke said that the NVGs enhance flight safety “one hundred fold” by illuminating obstructions that were previously very difficult to see. The goggles turn their user’s field of sight into varying shades of green. Obstacles such as large antennae, trees or power lines are highlighted as the NVGs detect ambient light, whether from ground lights or celestial illumination, and magnify it 2,000 times.

“NVGs have been the biggest improvement to safety in our industry in dozens of years,” said Mr. Rorke. “Because the places we go are often unprepared landing zones, we have to be very cautious about our surroundings, which is very different from landing on a cleared helipad.

What many people may not know is that NVGs cannot be used in just any aircraft. Before the LIFE STAR crewmembers could begin using NVGs, the helicopter’s cockpit had to be modified with a new lighting system that wouldn’t interfere with the night vision technology.

Prior to using the goggles, Mr. Rorke attended a five-hour ground school, followed by seven hours of flight time.

LIFE STAR operates two aircrafts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One helicopter is based at Hartford Hospital, and the other at Backus, making Backus the only hospital in Windham or New London counties to have an on-site air ambulance and a trauma center.