Military Dopers: Night-vision goggles

Okay, first of all, I have no experience in the military, modern or otherwise. Second, my only knowledge of night-vision goggles is based upon what I’ve seen in movies and TV shows. Third, I realize that Hollywood doesn’t always depict tech accurately.

Nevertheless, I have to ask: do night-vision goggles even remotely leave the wearer with a glowing, green bullseye on his/her face? That would seem completely stupid and counterproductive to me, and I can’t believe that even Hollywood would think it reasonable depict something that dumb.


I have some Gen-one binoculars that emit quite a bit of light from the eyepiece.
I’m sure that if I held them away from my eye, and they were aimed at a bright IR source, the reflected green light would be VERY visible to anyone looking at me through gen-2 or 3 goggles.


First, the viewing lens’ light or ‘backscatter’* onto the face from the initial lens doesn’t throw out that much light. . . it’s not like the reflection of your computer monitor on your face in a dark room. It’s more like the reflection off your face from looking at your Indiglo watch. It’s very low level, and unless you’re within a few feet of someone, you won’t even notice the haze. Your Indiglo watch has more direct noticeable light than backscatter face reflection from NVGs.

Second, there are ‘eye cups’ that help shield the backscatter, but are there more to focus the user on the picture being displayed. These cups help mitigate any reflection off the face, and can rest gently on the orbital areas to ‘seal off’ the user from bright side light or other interference.


  • Note: I couldn’t think of a better term.

So, yeah, I know that what the wearer sees might be this green image, but having that green showing “up front” … yeah, no.

Some night vision goggles have an IR “torch”. I’m not sure if they emit in the visible spectrum at all, I’d assume not because that would be self defeating.

Di you mean in the visible spectrum, or when viewed by people also wearing NVGs? Because as mentioned some older types of NVGs have an IR light that you can turn on and off to illuminate things in the IR spectrum, like a flashlight. This would obviously show up as a bright light if the observer also had NVGs.

Just be careful using them while flying helicopters:

I guess they just needed a more advanced training system.

I don’t know what Hollywood imagery the OP is talking about. I don’t watch that kind of “entertainment.”

I used some of the early gen one stuff back when it was state of the art. Pretty much posts #3 & 4 nailed it. And that was 30+ years ago. Modern stuff is not going to make a user into a well-lit target.

I suspect whatever the OP is seeing, it’s like the sideways-figure-8 mask they put on the scene to tell the audience they’re looking through conventional binoculars. Anyone who’s ever actually used a pair of binos know that’s not really what you see. E.g.

Bottomline: IMO Pure Hollywood BS.

Most recently, it was an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, from Season 1. Big ol’ green glowing eyepieces.

No, the IR “torches” are not in the visible spectrum. They are visible to someone else wearing NV goggles. They can be useful in signalling other team members similarly equipped.

So now we’re talking about magical future tech, not depictions of current real world tech.

I’ve done that many times back in the day. Even with AN/PVS-5s. Of course it cuts down on your field of vision and it’s much easier to get into brown out or instrument flight rules without warning.

I could be totally wrong, but it seems to me this still of ‘Buffalo Bill’ in Silence of the Lambs has such a light as mentioned in the OP. In this picture it’s a red/orange dot by the left eyepiece. This sticks in my mind because of the humongous, “Nu-uh!” it triggered in my head as he was creeping around the dark cellar with a beepy, flashy diode in the middle of his face.

Military night vision goggles like we were using in the mid-90s not only did NOT have such a light, but would have detected it a from maybe a kilometer away, especially in total darkness. Fun fact: the lasers on the MILES gear we used in combat simulations were visible to night vision goggles. Made night combat easier than daytime because you could see where your shots were hitting. :smiley:

Yep, IIRC we even used NVGs to zero the MILES gear during the day time before use. Not sure if that was the SOP or field expedient.

And another thing, except for vanity, there is no reason for a spacesuit helmut to be lighted inside. Except for the camera to catch the expressions of the actor.
There is a large premium on seeing the actors face and that is the only reason for all the lighting up there.

Which is why all military pilots, whether in an F-14 or an X-Wing fly & fight with their oxygen mask off. Worn properly, flight gear covers 100% of your exposed skin to minimize flash burns.

Which really kills the on-screen drama unless the character is supposed to be some Darth Vader-ish inhumanly unemotional sort.

I suppose you could always use some kind of Iron Man inside-the-helmet closeup shot.

Example 1: Top Gun. All our hero pilots not only had super recognisable helmet designs but also flew around with their visor up (even when losing a bogey in the sun–here’s a tip Maverick, put your bloody visor down!) Meanwhile the Russian pilots all had full face coverage, nondescript helmets, and were very cool and inanimate under pressure.