Welcome back. Last week we took a look at a thermal clip-on from Steiner. Well, this week we have another installment of Hollywood Night Vision Myths here at Friday Night Lights. This is where I pick apart a movie, TV show, or video game that uses night vision and point out if they did a good job or not. This week we will take a look at Amazon Prime’s Terminal List.
Hollywood Night Vision @ TFB:
Night Vision In Terminal List
Terminal List was based on a book by Jack Carr. I have not read the book so I do not know how accurate the book was nor the accuracy of Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the book. I am only analyzing the 8-episode series on Amazon Prime. It was entertaining and while they did use some night vision, I cringed a bit watching those scenes. There might be spoilers ahead but I assume you have seen this show by now. According to my friend Randy at AGM Global Vision, they sent out a bunch of units for the production company to use. And you do see some AGM NVGs being used in the first episode.
My problem with this scene is that no one has their NVGs turned on. There is a distinct green or bluish-white glow that basks the eye socket. However, for the majority of scenes where you can see the SEALs wearing night vision, you do not see any eye glow.
There is only one sequence where the camera is pulled in tight onto Chris Pratt’s face and you can see eye glow.
The other problem I have is that SEALs would not be using AGM binocular NVGs. They would be using PVS-31A by L3Harris. Or possibly GPNVGs like in Zero Dark Thirty, since they are going through extremely tight quarters in those tunnels.
There was a scene where they used a green light for the scene but I do not think that was to mimic night vision. There was only one scene in Terminal List where we see what is supposed to look like POV through night vision. It is the screenshot below.
This does not look like night vision to me. The other issue I have is the shape of the beam on the illuminator. It is also weird because it is white. Look at the picture below, this is the frame just before the one above.
The gun has a Cloud Defensive REIN white light and what looks like a PEQ-15. Neither of these produces a square beam pattern.
Thermal Used In Terminal List
While the night vision usage in Terminal List was mediocre, their use of thermal was more realistic and possibly believable. There was one scene that someone recently asked me about and it is what made me consider writing this entire article. Said person wanted to know if two 9V batteries plugged into each other would show up under thermal. This reminded me of the episode where Reece is evading the FBI and he uses two 9V batteries plugged into each other. He deploys them as thermal decoys to fool their thermal in the sky. According to the episode, the FBI has a “C2 bird and drone” to look for Reece.
In this scene the 9V batteries causes confusion for the FBI. From the screenshot below, I suspect this might be thermal coming from the C2. But can two 9V batteries act as a decoy for a person?
I decided to test this out on my own. I grabbed two 9V batteries and my Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced to see if Terminal List is reality. The picture below is of the two 9V batteries after I was done testing them. They do get warm when you plug them into each other and they get warm rather quickly. Within a minute or two they felt hot. They got up to 133ºF according to my laser temperature gun. I took the picture below with my RH25 Rico Micro.
Here is a video where I tested the 9V battery myth. While my thermal drone could see it, it is not big enough to be confused for a person. Also, people don’t show up under thermal that well in the daytime. Temperature thermal differential. In fact, people appear cooler than the ground. Granted I am standing on concrete and there is a person and kid that cross the street but they are still cooler than the asphalt.
According to a commenter on my Instagram, there is something called a Wolf Tail for signaling when a building is cleared.
According to Arthur A. Durante:
The Wolf Tail marking device is simple to make and versatile. Rolled up, it makes a small, easily accessible package that can be carried in the cargo pocket of BDUs. It can be recovered easily and used again if the situation changes. All its components can be obtained easily through unit supply. It combines a variety of visual signals (colored strapping and one or more chemlites of varying colors) with a distinctive heat signature that is easily identified through a thermal weapon sight. An infrared chemlite can be used either as a substitute for the colored chemlite(s) or in addition to the chemlite.
Constructing the Wolf Tail marking device requires the following material:
- A 2-foot length of nylon strap (the type used for cargo tie-down)
- Approximately five feet of 550 cord
- A small weight such as a bolt or similar object
- Duct tape
- Chemlites (colored and/or IR)
- Two 9-volt batteries
Assemble the items by tying or taping the cord to the small weight. Attach the other end of the cord to the nylon strapping, securing it with duct tape. Attach the 9-volt batteries in pairs to the lower end of the strapping with several wraps of duct tape, making sure that the negative terminals are opposite the positive, but not actually touching. Use more duct tape to attach the chemlites, approximately two inches above the batteries, to the strapping (see Figure 1).
When you want to mark your position, push the batteries together firmly until the male and female plugs lock. This shorts out the battery, causing it to heat up rapidly. The hot battery is easily identified through the thermal sights of tanks or BFVs. The batteries will remain visible for about 45 minutes. Activating the chemlites provides an easily identified light source visible to the naked eye. You can use infrared chemlites if you want them to be seen through night-vision devices.
Use the cord and the small weight to hold the Wolf Tail in position by tying or draping it out a window or hanging it on a door, wherever it is best seen by other friendly troops. Squads or platoons can vary the numbers and colors of chemlites, or use multiple battery sets to identify precisely what unit is in which building. Medics and combat lifesavers can carry a standardized variation that can be used to clearly identify a building containing wounded personnel needing evacuation.
So the conjoined double 9V battery as a thermal signature has some credence, only it is not as a decoy but a signaling device for thermal users.
Later in the episode, they use a LOKI drone by SKY-HERO, a company based out of Belgium. I find it odd they used this since the LOKI MkII is marketed as an indoor drone. Also, it has a forward-facing camera and while it boasts a 150º FOV, I have my doubts about how well it would work at finding people below it like in Terminal List.
So while the 9V battery myth was a bust, there were a couple sequences in the last episode where thermal was used correctly.
In this scene, Reece goes through a large house. He has a thermal clip-on mounted in front of a Vortex UH-1. I am a little skeptical of a thermal device in front of a red dot. But there are similar systems like the L3Harris CNVD-T which was designed to be mounted in front of an EOTech HWS. Most thermal clip-ons are designed to be utilized with a magnified optic though.
He throws a smoke grenade down the hallway. He then uses the thermal clip on to see and shoot the bad guys in the hallway. Notice anything unusual about the POV screenshots below? No aiming reticle.
They used thermal footage straight from a thermal device to show this guy getting shot in the baseball cap. The blood and brains coming out of the back should be red as well as it seems they use a red-hot color palette. When using red-hot, the hottest object in the thermal image will be highlighted in red. You can see the bad guy’s face and the entry hole in the baseball cap are red. But whatever they used for the blood effects was not body temperature. So it only shows up as white-hot and not red-hot.
How realistic is this? Other than the fact he made those precise shots without an aiming reticle, it is very realistic. Thermal can see through smoke. I tested this last September using night vision, a Jerry-C ECOTI, and a standalone AGM Micro TM384 thermal viewer. The night vision could not see through the smoke. But once I use the ECOTI Jerry-C, I could clearly see my friend Mike on the opposite side of the smoke. He was using my AGM Micro TM384 to look back at me. He could not see the smoke at all through the thermal monocular.
Final Thoughts On Terminal List
As I said earlier, it was entertaining. But the production company and the props master might want to consider a few changes. While AGM supplied the night vision, it is not believable for Navy SEALs to use commercial-grade night vision goggles. Not when they have access to the best like L3 PVS-31A or GPNVGs. If the scene called for Reece, on his own and not on US Govt payroll, sure I could believe he might not personally own the best night vision goggles and would resort to commercial-grade binos but that is not what happened. I realize this is a work of fiction and some liberties are taken but I think better representation, even in the gear used on screen, is something to improve upon.
The 9V battery scene is one of those things that you might think “hmm that could be believable”. However, if you think about it, it would not fool a thermal camera up in the sky. 9V batteries are about the size of a mouse. And while two of them connected to each other do get warm to around 130º F that is not the same as a human which are on average 98.6ºF. My LWIR thermal drone certainly showed the small batteries being hot but at around 100 ft in the air, they are too small to see. The C2 ISR platform probably has MWIR cooled thermal sensors which are more sensitive and could show something that small. If they use a similar system to what is on the MQ-9 Reaper drone, the AN/DAS-4, it can see a T-shirt logo from 30k ft AGL and 15 nautical miles away. But it would not confuse the operator by thinking the batteries are a person. Myth busted.
So really the only scene they got right was the use of thermal to see through smoke. It was well done if you forget the fact he had no way of aiming. I hope you enjoyed this analysis of Terminal List, If you have any other movie recommendations related to night vision or thermal use comment below.