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What Are Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems?

February 25, 2016

helicopter ride nyHelicopter pilots face a host of dangers, especially when flying in poor weather or in conditions with limited visibility, such as at night. Takeoffs and landings in restricted areas and flying at low altitudes can pose significant risks, such as wire or tower strikes or controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents.

In response to accidents and in order to reduce the risk of future incidents, many helicopters are equipped with terrain awareness and warning systems. If the TAWS detects that the helicopter is too close to the ground or that there is an obstacle in the helicopter’s flight path, it can provide the pilot with both visual and aural warnings and assess the threat level. The alerts can notify the pilot of the helicopter’s altitude and warn the pilot when the aircraft is getting too low or descending too rapidly. Some systems have a database of thousands of obstacles that could pose a danger to a helicopter.
The pilot will not miss the warnings, even if his or her attention is focused outside the helicopter, since they are given both visually and aurally. The warnings allow the pilot to take evasive action to keep the crew and passengers safe.
Terrain awareness and avoidance systems can increase a pilot’s situational awareness by integrating 3D visualization, displays, sensors, and databases. They provide a pilot with a graphical depiction of terrain and obstacles, even at night or in severe weather that limits visibility. TAWS can be integrated with other safety technology, such as traffic collision avoidance systems, weather radar, and obstacle warning systems, to improve the safety of helicopter flight.