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Written by David Oglesbee

Photos by Dana Maxfield

The very first conference exclusively focused on Night Vision Systems was recently held in Dallas TX.  The event was exceptionally well attended by Night Vision Goggle (NVG) users, suppliers and government representatives.  The participation of every group that has anything to do with Night Vision operations made this conference different from most in the industry.

Most conferences are great opportunities to meet with industry professionals.  It is always great to meet new friends and renew relationships with old friends.  Night Con was not only that kind of conference.  While that opportunity did exist and certainly friendships were made and renewed, the feel of this conference was different.  This conference felt like there was a specific goal in mind and that the audience was eager for the opportunity to meet together over this subject.  It was the right topics, with the right people and at the right time.

If you missed this conference and you are currently operating Night Vision Goggle modified aircraft or you have any desire to operate such aircraft, you really missed a tremendous opportunity. All is not lost though, as NightCon 2012 is already in the works.

ON THE GROUND

The layout of the conference area was obviously very well thought out. The event producers - Rotorcraft Pro Media Network, Night Flight Concepts, and Aviation Specialties Unlimited - who planned the floor area and the flow of events had obviously been to many other events and had kept notes of lessons learned.

The conference was basically divided into three separate areas.  The main welcome area and the area where the opening round table events were held as a very well appointed room that really had the feel of a large classroom with tables, tablets, pens and instructors provided.  Next to this room was a display area that contained displays and demonstrations by companies involved in the NVG industry.  The third type of space that occupied numerous areas, were the actual breakouts where classes were held. These breakouts were geared towards specific members of the NVG community such as pilots, operations managers and maintainers.

WORKING TOGETHER

One of the most significant events was a cooperative industry and FAA open forum discussion that occurred in front of the entire audience.  It was well thought out as the moderator, Randy Rowles of Night Flight Concepts, asked members of the panel questions which dove into specific areas of regulations and the interpretation of those regulations.  The willingness of the industry members and FAA representatives to openly discuss, and on occasion disagree, was thought provoking and eye opening.  The discussion illustrated that not everyone knows everything and on several issues impacting the NVIS community; the industry and regulators are on separate pages.

The FAA had a tremendous presence and that was critical to the success of the event.  The willingness of the FAA representatives to listen, comment and discuss night vision operations with other attendees was absolutely one of the most positive things that have happened in this industry in a long time.  While NightCon was very well put together and well attended by Night Vision companies and operators, the importance and significance of the presence of FAA representatives and the interaction with those representatives was amazing.  Numerous attendees commented on the fact that the FAA did not come across as all knowing and did not purport to have all of the answers but was willing to listen and work with the industry.

“The industry-wide presence and cooperation of key players, such as Night Flight Concepts, ASU, Aero Dynamix and REBTECH, provided a unique opportunity for us to hear from NVG organizations speaking on related issues with one voice,” explained Edwin Miller, FAA 135 Air Carrier Operations Branch Director. “We found it very constructive.”

One of the net results of this “Industry / Regulator” collaboration was a plan for a new NVG Industry Working Group that will represent the needs of civilian NVG operators. “We expect that the positive effects of the conference will be far-reaching,” said Night Flight Concepts President, Adam Aldous. “The event was a game changer. Industry players participated in moving our sector to a new level of engagement that we all can build on to help serve and support the needs of industry and operators in the future.”

EDUCATION IS KEY TO SUCCESS

The producers of NightCon obviously understand the aviation business and the people involved in it very well.  After the group discussion was completed the conference was broken down into several smaller sub groups or “Breakout Tracks”.  First, those who were interested in certain subjects and who were concerned about certain areas of operations were able to hear about those subjects and have a more intimate setting with the instructors.  The second and maybe the most important aspect of this division was that operators really needed to bring all of their experts to the conference.  Operators couldn’t just send one person to the event and have that person try to gather the wealth of information that was available.  The following “Breakout Tracks” were available to NightCon attendees:

Track 1 - NVG Operator Program Management                                   

Track 2 - NVG Maintenance Program Management                                   

Track 3 - NVG Initial Ground Course           

Track 4 - NVG Instructor Course

Track 5 - NVG Inspection & Repair /Cockpit Conformity

 

The breakout classes all ran on the same schedule.  There was one hour of class followed by 30 minutes of break.  Another stroke of genius by the producers was this 30 minute break.  The length of the break period allowed the attendees adequate time to digest course materials as well as network with colleagues and vendors.  The strategic placement of all refreshments in the vendor area certainly added to the incentive to visit the vendor area.

RECOGNITION

The producers of NightCon 2011 recognized Mr. Dick Borkowski, CEO of REB Technologies (REBTech) with the first annual Night Vision Achievement Award. With more than 40 years supporting night vision in both the military and civil segments, Mr. Borkowski exemplifies all this award represents. To present this award, Scott Baxter of Bell Helicopter spoke of Mr. Borkowski’s support as a key component in the development and eventual approval of the first FAA Approved Part 141 NVG pilot training course at the Bell Helicopter Training Academy.

As one might guess, the conference opportunities in aviation are many.  It seems that there is a conference every day of the year focusing on one aspect of aviation or another.  Night Con 2011 would be viewed as a tremendous success if it had been the 15th annual event with all of the lessons learned from previous events filed away.  The fact that this was the first one ever makes the success truly amazing.

Special thanks should be given to the Producers and Sponsors of NightCon for bringing such a needed event together for the benefit of an industry.

Producers: Rotorcraft Pro Media Network, Night Flight Concepts, and Aviation Specialties Unlimited.

Sponsors: REBTECH, AeroDynamix, Avidyne, and Hoffman Engineering.

STAY TUNED for more on NightCon 2012 by visiting www.nightcon.com.

About the Author: David Oglesbee is the Director of Sales & Marketing for Uni Flight. David is also a 32 year veteran pilot with experience flying helicopters and NVG's in both the US Army and the civilian world.

 

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