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When a HUD Won’t Cut It, Pilots Turn To Helmet-Mounted

by philewing on July 12, 2012

FARNBOROUGH, England — Back in the old days, all the hep pilots were using heads-up displays to manage the increasing amount of information generated by their aircraft. Now, with sensor and navigation and network data flooding the cockpit like a fire hose, a HUD might not cut it.

That’s why the latest thing for combat pilots is displays mounted directly on their helmets. You’ve read here before about how F-35 pilots’ helmets are supposed to help them process the volumes of information from their Distributed Aperture System, but they aren’t the only ones with that kind of gear. Eurofighter Typhoon pilots have a similar helmet, and Raytheon is helping develop one for F-16 Viper and A-10 Warthog drivers in the U.S. Air National Guard.

Raytheon chief engineer Todd Lovell explained that one simple but powerful advantage of his helmet-mounted system was that it could show information in color, rather than the standard HUD green. That means a helicopter can show its pilot a dangerous obstacle — such as a radio antenna, or high-tension power lines — in red, to make sure it pops out from everything else she might be seeing.

Pilots might not be the only ones to benefit. Company officials also talked about possibilities for other crew members that sounded like they came from science fiction: Let’s say your helicopter was dashing in to pull out a team of special operators in close contact with the bad guys. If your door gunner were wearing a helmet display of his own, you could send him details about where to fire and, just as important, where not to fire, even if he couldn’t quite see individuals on the ground himself. He could view a little red target box in his helmet, just like a fighter pilot, and line up the iron sights on his gun accordingly.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

blight_ July 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm

And considering the advances in computer pattern recognition, it won't be long before one can use pattern recognition to detect threats outside of pilot situational awareness and either flag them or engage them.

Interesting times await.

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Guy July 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Why not just have the gun point itself at the little red target box?

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coolhand77 July 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm

because sometimes, the software screws up. You still need a man with critical thinking behind the weapon, just in case theres a glitch, or they hack your automated targeting, or battle damage knocks it out, or…
Sometimes, there just is no substitute for the Mk1 eyeball and the Mk1 brain. Everything else is just there to help those two items do their job better… at least untill you get true AIs and the terminator makes us all obsolete.

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4FingerOfBouron July 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Viper lol fail…

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Noha307 July 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I'm assuming that you think DT used the incorrect nickname for the F-16. The thing is the nickname 'Viper' is actually in some ways more correct than 'Fighting Falcon'. Viper is the nickname that is actually used by the pilots themselves. It's akin to the B-52 being known as the 'BUFF' instead of the 'Stratofortress'. IMHO, the "official" nicknames were probably too much of a mouthful - they are for me!

As an interesting inversion of the above situation, when you refer to a UH-1 as a 'Huey' you are technically incorrect. The "official" nickname is 'Iroquois'.

If my assumption is wrong - well, hey, the more you know!

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F_18Texrep July 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Hornets have this system and in combination with other systems the pilot can see where friendlys are and where the bad guys are on the ground. It also allows high angle-off boresight targeting in air to air combat… very cool system

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ghostwhowalksnz July 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm

F-18s have a helmet mounted HUD in production ?

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SirSapo July 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm

The JHMCS is the USAF and USN's standard helmet mounted system. It is used on everything from Vipers to Super Hornets, and while it's not a full on HUD, it does provide some flight information.

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Will July 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

HUDs can't be multicolor or just aren't multicolor?

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Nick July 12, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Multicolor would be interesting, personally I think it'd be distracting.

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Lance July 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm

The USAF is also fixing the system to F-15s as well.

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Benjamin July 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm

How much does that thing weigh? In the age of microelectronics can we not make something smaller and more comfortable?

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SirSapo July 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm

While the helmets look bulky, they actually don't weigh too much more than a standard helmet. I think the reason it is so big is to get the proper focal length for the optics, the projector has to fit in there somewhere…

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Stephen Russell July 12, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Other uses:
Tank crews
Air Rescue
HS Boat pursuit crew
Firefighting
Artillary Fwd spotter: point head & gun fires at target?
(vs calling in coordinates?)
MedEvac- ID most severe wounded.
Security Patrol: see whole area with UV etc.

Problem: helmet weight on user & for how long.

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Riceball July 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm

While I agree with most of your proposed uses for the new helmet system I do have to disagree with it being used for artillery fire support operations. The problem with using it for artillery comes from the fact that the FO is called an FO because he's sitting (well) forward of the actual arty batteries so a helmet cueing system wouldn't work very well unless you had some sort of means of bouncing his signal back to the arty batteries he's working with. Even if that could be worked out you'd still need to tweak the system to automatically feed in the GPS coordinates of where the FO is looking at and designating as a target.

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Swiat34 August 10, 2012 at 1:51 am

Solutions are simple to your issues and available in pocket-sized electronics. A GPS within the helmet with a calibrated ‘direction of look’ solves half the problem. FOs currently use a handheld range finder and one can be helmet mounted. So you have ‘my location’ ‘target direction’ and ‘distance to target’…hence target location. On the Battery side of Artillery, fire missions are sent digitally to the gunline from FDC. I’m a gunrock so I don’t know the FO’s stuff exactly, but from what I hear, they send their info digitally to the FDC. A helmet mounted FO system wouldn’t be too difficult to make but wouldn’t make much sense when a handheld device can do it without the neck strain.

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Matrix_3692 July 13, 2012 at 1:04 am

honestly, i'll be more interested on mating this helmet on an powered exoskeleton system.

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Guest July 13, 2012 at 9:39 am

Ah64 has been using a helmet display since the 80's.

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zap July 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Yes but a helicopter doesn't pull anything near the same Gs a fighter does , if you put old helicopter pilot helmets with a display on a fighter pilot you would break his neck .
the reason why they are now starting to be used is because they have got light

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Guest July 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Huh. The helmet in the clip looks alot like an HGU 56, which is a helo helmet. The clip also mentioned that the display can be used with NVG. Do NVG cause jet pilot neck fractures, too?

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Jafrum July 14, 2012 at 3:48 am

Using helmets to send signals. Now, that's what we call technology.

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Boldar July 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Goin' virtual reality on the visual stuff - bad ass!

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F35 July 16, 2012 at 2:47 pm

All the hep pilots? You mean pilots with hepatitis?

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