By 1st Lt. David Cromwell
Aeronautical Systems Center Public Affairs

Nighttime missions are about to get a whole lot clearer, and that is only the beginning of a much-anticipated acquisition program here.

Air Force special operations aircrews received their first shipment of 20 panoramic night-vision goggles April 25.

The current contract calls for 400 goggles, and officials plan to deliver about 20 goggles a month to the field, said Todd Depoy, PNVG system program manager with the combat systems squadron here.

The squadron is responsible for the system development, demonstration, production, fielding and sustainment of cross-platform programs.

The panoramic goggles provide pilots a 95-degree field of view compared to the standard goggles 40 degrees. It does this by using four smaller (16 mm) image intensifier tubes rather than the two traditional (18 mm) ones.

An auto-gating feature that works independently on each of the tubes also protects pilots from visual degradation if and when they encounter bright lights such as flares. The tube exposed to the high light source automatically reduces gain, which blocks out the light, while allowing the other tubes to retain visual acuity and situational awareness for the pilot.

"The (PNVGs) are an evolutionary growth in night combat capability," said Lt. Col. Terrence Leary, squadron commander. "They improve the aircrew's overall situational awareness and safety by more than doubling the current field of view. This will allow the aircrew to perform near-daytime tactics at night, reducing their time in the threat envelope and improving their targeting and tracking capabilities."

The first special operations Airmen to receive the PNVGs are the AC-130 gunship and MC-130 Combat Talon aircrews. Additional fielding is scheduled for Air Combat Command A-10 Thunderbolt II and Air Mobility Command C-17 Globemaster III units.

This delivery is the first step in the program that was first flown in 2001 as an advanced technology demonstration at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Two more upgrades for the panoramic goggles have already been planned, officials said.