Welcome back to another installment of Friday Night Lights. This week we take a close look at a night vision goggle that is somewhat obscure and somewhat rare. It is the Sopelem TN2 biocular goggle. It was used by France’s GIGN operators. I managed to acquire a used version so we can take a detailed close-up look at this piece of night vision history.
Biocular Night Vision @ TFB:
It Is A Biocular, Not A Binocular.
Binoculars, both visible and night vision, have two distinct images entering each individual eyeball in your head. What is most important is that the images are the same distance apart as the distance between your pupils. This is how humans have evolved and how we get depth perception also known as stereopsis. However, with a biocular design, there is only one distinct image that is duplicated, in this case by a beam splitter, and projected into both eyes. We have seen bioculars before like the PVS-7. However, most biocular designs are found in foreign countries outside of the US. The most well-known is the French Thales Lucie. We now know more about the Norwegian Simrad GN-1. But there is another French night vision biocular by a company called Sopelem. They made the TN2 biocular so let’s take a closer look at it.
Night Vision Of The GIGN
The image above sparked the desire to get a Sopelem TN2. Night vision and MP5s? What’s not to like? What intrigued me the most about the Sopelem TN2 is the position of the objective lens. A lot of biocular night vision goggles position the objective lens in the middle, like the PVS-7, or it is offset somewhere else like the Simrad GN-1 and Thales Lucie. The position of the Sopelem TN2 is perfect for passive aiming with a red dot.
The Sopelem TN2 is a bit antiquated and has an obsolete design. It is mounted to a face mask/skull crusher.
The little brass-colored circle is an IR illuminator. To the right, at the end of the cylindrical protrusion, is a switch to turn the IR illuminator on. Below that is the 2xAA battery housing. This unit is missing the battery cap but it is easy enough to activate with some metal to bridge the contacts on the two AA batteries. I plan to enlist the help of my friend to CAD a sliding cover that I can 3D print to hold the batteries in place and complete the electrical circuit.
Twisting the large knurled ring on the objective lens is how you adjust focus.
The face mask reminds me of the PVS-5. However, unlike the PVS-5, the Sopelem TN-2 goggle is hinged on the facemask. Due to the eccentric location of the objective lens, the Sopelem TN2 oculars are fixed position. They do not adjust for interpupillary adjustments like the PVS-7. The Simrad GN-1 and Thales Lucie suffer the same problem but those designs have their image intensifier tubes perpendicular to the light path. The TN2 image intensifier sits directly in line behind the objective lens.
See the little unicorn nub on the mask just above the nose? That is a rod that pushes the blue switch on the back of the goggle. So when the Sopelem TN2 is deployed, it hits the switch and turns the goggle on. When you flip the goggle up, the switch is no longer pushed and the goggled turns off.
The facemask has a leather cushion but this one has seen better days. It is held onto the plastic facemask using snaps.
The head strap is anchored with one snap per strap. Two above the eyebrows and one on each side by the temple.
The image intensifier inside is an XX-14190. Somewhat similar to the tubes used in PVS-5.
The battery compartment is removable and the wiring is set up with plugs so you can detach it for service.
This particular Sopelem TN2 has a stuck switch. So it is “on” all the time. I managed to pull it out to see the back side but was not able to fix the switch.
Looking Through The Sopelem TN2
I was able to mount my Jerry-C clip-on thermal imager to the objective lens of the Sopelem TN2. There is barely enough space to position the Jerry-C sideways.
Night Vision Of The GIGN
The photo at the top of this article, where the GIGN officer is looking straight and holding an MP5SD led me to try and replicate it.
This image led me down a GIGN x Night Vision rabbit hole and I was able to find the original photo that I have seen online so much. The original photo is a Getty Image and was shot by Jean Guichard back in 1988!
I was curious how GIGN aimed their MP5s with night vision. Sopelem made an infrared designator called the PS1. I have not been able to find out any more information on this obscure aiming device. Considering these photos were shot in 1988, the Sopelem PS1 could be an IR laser or an IR light with a reticle sort of like the aiming light for the MP5 by Hensoldt. But this is purely conjecture.
The following images were taken in 1994. GIGN are still wearing the Sopelem TN2 night vision biocular.
The photo below was posted on Reddit. I am not sure about the time frame this was taken but interestingly the GIGN officer in the middle is using a shotgun with a red dot. Allegedly this was taken in the 90s. That is pretty forward thinking and makes sense for accurate shot placement with a shotgun in confined spaces. And technically you could passively aim with the TN2 and this shotgun.
Final Thoughts On The Sopelem TN2
Considering that the GIGN implemented night vision and active aiming solutions back in the late 80s shows how advanced they were. The TN2 is one of the better-designed bioculars I have seen and that is simply because the objective lens is in line with your right eye which is perfect for passive aiming with a red dot. The mask-dependent power switch is a bit annoying. I understand why they did it though. That way when you tilt the goggle up, it should turn off. I plan to have a friend help design a battery cap that I can print. Then possibly remove the mask and design a dovetail adapter for the goggle so I can use a helmet with them.