Fighter Jet Pilots Get High-Tech Helmet Upgrade
The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing varient does testing aboard the USS WASP (LHD-1) in October 2011.
CREDIT: Lockheed Martin
A new type of helmet-mounted display allows fighter jet pilots to see essential flight and weapons information while looking in any direction.
The futuristic helmets are an upgrade over “heads up displays” used in many modern aircraft, which projects information onto a transparent screens in front of the pilot. HUDs allows pilots to see essential information without requiring them to look down at their instruments, but the data appears in the same parts of the pilot’s field of view every time.
In contrast, the new helmet displays work by projecting information onto the pilot’s visor itself, so that they can look in any direction and still have access to information about the aircraft’s speed, altitude, weapons status, and other information.
The helmets can perform other neat tricks as well. For example, in an air-to-air role, the helmets enable pilots to cue onboard weapons against enemy aircraft merely by pointing their heads at the targets to guide the weapon. In an air-to-ground role, they can be used in conjunction with targeting sensors such as radar and “smart weapons” to accurately and precisely attack surface targets.
The U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is currently undergoing testing, will be equipped with an even more advanced type of flight helmet. F-35 pilots will have access, through their helmets, to information gathered by all of the plane’s sensors as well as a set of cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces. It will be as if the pilots have X-ray vision and can peer through their aircraft to the see the outside environment.
The new helmet displays are being rolled out in modern aircraft in the U.S. and Europe, but interestingly, the F-22 Raptor, an American combat plane, is not one of them. There could be several reasons for this omission: confidence that the capability wasn’t needed; limited head space below the canopy; and the use of missiles that are carried inside ventral bays whose sensors can’t aim until the missiles are ejected.