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IMC on a VFR day

Icarus face shield simulates realistic conditions

Icarus is a clear plastic instrument-training face shield that transforms from clear to translucent to opaque, which simulates instrument meteorological conditions at the touch of an app. It can also be modulated independently using an attached power module.
The Icarus instrument training device is a face shield controlled by an app or an attached power supply that can instantly change to opaque to simulate instrument meteorological conditions, as demonstrated in the Middletown Valley near Frederick, Maryland. Photography by David Tulis
The Icarus instrument training device is a face shield controlled by an app or an attached power supply that can instantly change to opaque to simulate instrument meteorological conditions, as demonstrated in the Middletown Valley near Frederick, Maryland, September 13, 2021. Photo by David Tulis.

A polymer dispersed liquid-crystal film clips to the bill of a ballcap and allows pilots to look through a clear face shield. A USB-rechargeable power module is corded to the face shield. Visibility options can be set to unlimited (clear) or one of three simulated instrument conditions via the power module or selected through an iOS or Android app. Users may choose simulated instrument conditions of one mile, one-half mile, or less than one-half mile.

In practice, the face shield changes immediately with no delay and is accurate in depicting the three ranges of limited visibility. Unlike traditional frosted eyeglasses, the Icarus wraps around the side of a user’s face. There’s no cheating by looking out a side window or by peering over a nose bridge—and no advance warning from an instructor, so users may be realistically caught off guard as they enter IMC.

Fixed-wing general aviation and Wisconsin National Guard helicopter pilot Nick Sinopoli developed the smart device to help train helicopter pilots to survive sudden entry into bad weather or visual obscurations such as dust, snow, and smoke. The patented training device helps them avoid spatial disorientation and loss-of-control accidents, which account for five to 10 percent of all general aviation accidents. Of those accidents, 90 percent are fatal. Between 2010 and 2019, 184 fatal aircraft accidents—including 20 helicopter accidents—were caused by pilots becoming disoriented after inadvertent entry into instrument conditions. The NTSB listed spatial disorientation and loss of control as factors in a 2020 Sikorsky S–76B helicopter crash that claimed the lives of former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others.

Although the Icarus face shield can be an effective training tool, the device is also fragile—and pricey. The wafer-thin apparatus is shipped in a padded laptop case. Even when the face shield was treated with respect, a crease began to form in the center-top area near the bill bracket after just one flight.

Sinopoli said he is tracking and addressing the bending-stress issue caused by “multiple layers of material” that make up the polymer dispersed liquid crystal film. “I’m happy to report that after experimenting with a few methods to stiffen the visor and unload the attachment point, we have a substantial improvement to fix the issue.”

[email protected]

PRICE: $1,000 for fixed-wing device; $1,500 for helicopter version.

GET IT: For your students if you’re an instrument instructor or have a flight school.

SKIP IT: If you are a primary flight student.

icarusdevices.com

David Tulis

David Tulis

Content Producer
AOPA Media Content Producer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.

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