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WI Guard pilot’s invention could prevent helicopter crashes

1st Lt. Nick Sinopoli, a pilot with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st...
1st Lt. Nick Sinopoli, a pilot with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation, wearing one of the versions of his ICARUS Devices. (Sgt. Alex Baum/DMA)(NBC15)
Published: May. 11, 2020 at 11:08 AM CDT
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A new device developed by a Wisconsin National Guard pilot could help prevent helicopter crashes.

The training device, called ICARUS, was created by First Lt. Nick Sinopoli with the 147th Aviation Regiment in Madison. It is among the top 16 entries in the 2020 National Guard Innovation Competition.

ICARUS helps pilots learn to maintain control of their aircraft when they hit dangerous weather conditions. It has a visor that wraps around the pilot’s face and an electronic controller. It does not obscure vision until a tablet or smartphone app used by the instructor changes the visor’s opacity.

Sinopoli says the device provides a more realistic simulation of clouds or fog where zero visibility can occur instantly. He says the standard practice in training is for pilots to put on and take off hoods or the trainer putting their hands in front of the trainee’s face, which detracts from transition training.

“It’s not just bothersome,” Sinopoli said. “It disrupts training realism and value.”

Sinopoli says his motivation comes after losing a friend to a spatial disorientation helicopter crash and dissatisfaction with current training methods.

He also sold his car to pay for the patent for the device and developed it over the years from several prototypes.

“Winning the National Guard Innovation Competition would create a path to getting the device into our cockpits, improving training and finally ending these tragic accidents,” Sinopoli said. “Every branch of the military flies helicopters in challenging environments. I think it would be really cool if the National Guard could lead the way on innovative weather training.”

The judging for the semifinal round of the competition wraps up on Tuesday. The final round will be in June.

Sinopoli’s invention was one of 112 from all 54 states and territories.

His device is currently being tested at flight schools in Detroit, Hawaii and with the FAA.