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Environmental lab now serves air simulation needs

Feb 28, 2011

By Randy Siniard (Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center Public Affairs)

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- There's a beehive in Bldg. 5400 here that's steep in history.

And now, the Battlefield Highly Immersive Virtual Environment Laboratory -- or BHIVE Lab -- in the Advanced Prototyping Engineering and Experimentation-2 Laboratory, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, is, once again, buzzing with activity designed to empower, unburden and protect the American Warfighter.

The high bay was originally home to a moveable terrain table of northern Alabama. Seekers were attached to an overhead moveable cradle and the now-aging lighting system allowed engineers to change the environment from day to night and anything in between. The original virtual environment once simulated missiles.

It's appropriate that a lab like the BHIVE now occupies this space.

The BHIVE provides customers with actual and virtual worlds to respond to the needs of their projects, said Joseph Creekmore, lead engineer and lab manager.

"The BHIVE provides customers -- the Cargo Project Management Office, the Utility Project Management Office, the Armed Scout Helicopter Project Office, the Aviation Systems Project Office and the Air Warrior Product Office -- with rapid functional engineering to respond to their urgent needs," Creekmore said.

Twenty-five support contractors work in the BHIVE, providing task and experimentation support -- with anything from logistics support to human factors engineering. Two government engineers routinely run experiments in the BHIVE using one of four of their engineering analysis cockpits, Creekmore said.

The four helicopter cockpits employed in the BHIVE are the CH-47 Chinook, the UH-60 Blackhawk, the OH-58 Armed Reconnaissance and the AH-64D Apache.

"The lab can rapidly engineer simulated software solutions to support the determination of requirements for the PMOs," Creekmore added.

One customer who uses the BHIVE is the Air Warrior Product Office.

"The Air Warrior Product Office provides aviation life support equipment, which is everything worn, consumed, or carried by aircrew members assigned to all Army aircraft platforms," said Maj. Jay Maher, assistant product manager for air warrior/air Soldier, air warrior product office.

A threat to safe aviation operations is what is called a brown-out, or any other condition that limits visibility for the pilot and crew.

"The air warrior product office is evaluating the potential capabilities that reduce cognitive workload and increase the crewmember's ability to operate in degraded visual environments," Maher said.

The BHIVE allows the AWPO to evaluate experiment results and refine development efforts in the engineering and manufacturing development phase, Maher explained.

Engineers collect information through video. A camera is mounted on the pilots' helmet that tracks and records crewmember eye movement. This data shows exactly where the crewmember looked during the experiment, said Ben Schwartz, SAIC, technical data writer and human factors engineer, System Simulation and Development Directorate, AMRDEC.

After each experiment the data is analyzed by the lab. Human factor engineers collect data from their sources within the experimentation environment.

"Data is reviewed to determine the inside-to-outside ratio for each crewmember and analyzed to provide feedback to answer questions related to the cockpits' design," said Schwartz. "If a crewmember's attention is drawn to a particular instrument display or control longer than it should be then the data will show that."

The information from the crewmembers' experience is also important.

"After each mission in the BHIVE the pilots are given a survey to complete and this data is used to determine whether or not they are aware of the state of the environment," Schwartz said. "This helps the HFE determine if the crew is getting the right information effectively from the cockpit displays."

Finally, each crewmember is asked their opinion of the test, what worked and what didn't work, and any other comments that they might have. These answers are invaluable, Schwartz said.

The BHIVE provides a means to conduct experiments in simulated environments that allow project offices to realize change that can lead to saving dollars and ultimately saving Soldiers' lives.

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