Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aviat Husky A-1C


A venerable bush plane turns visionary


AviatThe lights of Lakeland, Fla., sparkle a thousand feet below, a pointillist painting on a black canvas. Yet despite the darkness, I can clearly distinguish open fields, forested tracts, clumps of trees, a couple of large ungulates—either horses or cows—even a narrow, sandy beach on a lake that should be invisible. All I have to do is glance at the small monitor sitting on the glare shield of the Aviat Husky A-IC.
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aviatThe lights of Lakeland, Fla., sparkle a thousand feet below, a pointillist painting on a black canvas. Yet despite the darkness, I can clearly distinguish open fields, forested tracts, clumps of trees, a couple of large ungulates—either horses or cows—even a narrow, sandy beach on a lake that should be invisible. All I have to do is glance at the small monitor sitting on the glare shield of the Aviat Husky A-IC.

In the front seat, Aviat dealer Jeff Welch of Freedom Transportation (www.freedomhusky.com) in Alpena, Mich., is beaming like a proud uncle showing off a precocious toddler as I marvel at the image on
the screen.

“In five years, this system will be in every GA airplane,” he says, the chuckle in his voice suggesting that after 17,000 hours of PIC time in Learjets, King Airs and “everything underneath,” he thought he’d seen it all. “It turns night into day in front of you!”

The system is the EVS-100 from Forward.Vision (www.forward-vision.net) in Russell, Penn. The company’s enhanced vision system (EVS) uses a long-wave infrared (LWIR) sensor, mounted atop the cabin in a 1.2-pound housing, to see through darkness, smoke, haze and fog. [For more, see the “EVS Technology” sidebar.] It was only a matter of time before EVS technology, currently found in Gulfstreams, Boeing BBJs and other high-end business jets, filtered down to the piston OEM market. But...a bush plane as the launch platform?

Explaining why he wanted to put the EVS-100 in the Husky, Stu Horn, president of Aviat Aircraft (www.aviataircraft.com) in Afton, Wyo., commented earlier in the evening, “We fly in remote rural areas where there’s very little ambient light source. If you take off at night, you rotate and look outside and there’s no horizon, no clouds, no mountains—no nothing. The cues that pilots rely on as a reference sometimes are obscured or not available to us. So this is a safety factor. When we rotate into the dark now, we have a horizon.”

aviatThe Husky itself is hardly old technology, so it’s a fitting mount as the first piston aircraft to offer enhanced vision as an OEM option. The Husky was developed in the mid-1980s as a clean-sheet version of the Piper Cub by Frank Christensen, designer of the Christen Eagle II aerobatic kit biplane, after he was rebuffed from buying rights to the Cub when Piper ceased its production. Christensen’s team interviewed Cub owners on what they liked and didn’t like about their airplanes, then created the Husky using computer-aided design (CAD). Certified in 1987, the Husky A-1 went from napkin to production in 18 months. It has gone through several iterations since then, and tonight we’re flying the fourth variant, the newly certified Husky A-1C.

Welch and I are at 500 feet along the shore of Lake Parker. The Husky hugs the bank, the wing at a 60-degree angle, nose pasted on the horizon, following commands as eagerly as an obedient mastiff. Across the water, the power plant that serves as the reporting point for aircraft inbound to Sun ’n Fun is only a dim outline—but it’s aglow on the monitor.

Horn’s interest in EVS technology was sparked by an inquiry from “a guy with a military research background” about outfitting the Husky with surveillance capability. As we talked about the new Husky at Landmark Aviation (www.landmark-aviation.com) before the flight, Horn’s discretion regarding this chapter of the story suggests he could tell you more, but he’d have to kill you if he did. But Horn started asking questions about EVS, and that led him to cross paths with Forward.Vision’s president, Pat Farrell, who had developed an intense interest of his own in the technology.




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