Sikorsky has been awarded $10.3m to help develop a system that will allow helicopter pilots land and take off safely when desert sandstorms create "brownout" conditions.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the contract under its "Sandblaster" program, a high priority effort to develop and demonstrate effective solutions for landing in degraded visual environments. Brownout conditions can disorient pilots and obscure their vision.

Sikorsky is teamed with Honeywell and Sierra Nevada Corporation, with Sikorsky acting as the prime and lead system integrator. Honeywell will design and produce a Sensor data-driven, Localised, External, Evidential Knowledge base (SLEEK) capability integrated with the company's synthetic vision system. Sierra Nevada will provide see-through sensing technologies. Sandblaster will initially focus on Black Hawk helicopters. Project completion is expected within 18 months.

‘In developing the Sandblaster proposal, we didn't look for just a one-dimensional solution but rather a complete package of integrated sensors, pilot vehicle interface and flight controls to address the problem,’ said Peter Grant, Program Manager, Advanced Programs.