Lockheed Pitches F-35 Helmet for Future Helos


NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Lockheed Martin Corp. brought one of its F-35 fighter jet simulators to an Army helicopter conference this week.

And the world’s largest defense contractor was itching to explain why: The aircraft’s so-called smart helmet display — which projects sensor data onto a visor rather than a cockpit display — could be adapted for use on future fleets of rotorcraft, company officials said.

Lockheed is making its pitch as the Army moves forward with the Joint Multi-Role, or JMR program to identify future helicopter designs. The research effort could eventually pave the way for a potential $100 billion Future Vertical Lift acquisition program to replace the service’s existing fleets of AH-64 Apaches and UH-60 Black Hawks.

“We want to use technology that the government and Lockheed Martin have spent billions of dollars developing,” Ed Whalen, who heads up rotary business development at Lockheed, said on Tuesday at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference, known as Quad A.

“We’re not trying to sell the F-35 to the Army — that doesn’t make any sense,” he added. “But the sensor fusion that the F-35 program has developed is tops. There’s nothing better … That can be ported over into JMR.”

During the conference, the company showed off the simulator to such leaders as Lt. Gen. James Barclay, deputy chief of staff for financial management, and Brig. Gen. Robert Marion, who heads up the Army’s aviation acquisition office, Whalen said.


The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons systems, estimated to cost $400 billion to develop and build 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The Helmet Mounted Display System costs about $500,000 apiece and is made by Rockwell Collins Inc. It’s designed to provide pilots with 360-degree situational awareness in any kind of weather, day or night. The jet’s distributed aperture system streams real-time imagery from cameras and sensors mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, allowing pilot’s to “see through” windowless parts of the cockpit.

While development of the technology “has posed significant challenges,” the Defense Department has worked with Lockheed over the past two years to identify fixes, Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the program office, said in October after the Pentagon canceled development of an alternative helmet made by BAE Systems Plc.

But it still has bugs. When a news team from the CBS News program, “60 Minutes,” visited the Marine Corps station in Yuma, Ariz., a helmet malfunction caused a scheduled flight to be scrubbed, according to a Feb. 16 segment about the plane.

F-35 pilots currently use the program’s second-generation helmet. A third-generation helmet is designed in part to correct minor technical issues and is expected to be ready in 2016.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Last two things we need more crap from this billion dollar boondoggle ending up on current weapons. Two we don’t need more computerized crap on top of every pilots head while flying. Let the man fly quit strapping PCs on every corner of his/her body.

    • Atomic Walrus

      “I don’t need no stinkin’ artificial horizon to tell me how I’m flying! My eyes are just fine!” – anonymous biplane pilot circa 1920 (probably prior to crashing in poor weather.)

    • Wolf

      They already used the money better to use it, humans can only do so much till they become useless. I’m not going to say wether it affects the pilot badly or not but it’s only a matter of time. Otherwise your obsolete when war does come, there’s only so much you can do then.

    • tmb2

      The Apache already flies with a monocle over the eye of the pilot which feeds him navigation and targeting data. He flies visually with the other eye. It’s a difficult skill to learn but “PCs on every corner of his body” isn’t anything new.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Right… because the that helmet design has been working so great for the F-35…

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Something like this helmet, and the sensor fusion and distributed aperture system it supports, is probably going to be a standard part of almost everything bigger than a Raven UAV from this point forward. I can’t see a midlife refit of the F-22, or a new strategic bomber, or even a third-generation F-18 (if that happens) that wouldn’t benefit. The engineers will make it work. It will take three times longer than was promised and will cost five times as much as promised and the performance requirements will be discreetly reduced to help Lockheed out. That’s why K Street spends as much as it does. In the end, this is going to be an asset that the AF and Army will seek to use in every manned airframe they operate in war, from now to forever.

    And the next generation tank, the M-2 or M-20 or whatever, will probably use something of the sort too. Gentlemen, any wagers? I’ll put up a floating 5 1/4″ Bomber that hasn’t been fished yet.

    • Brian

      We should give an Oculus Rift to every high school student in ROTC.

  • hibeam

    What’s up with the Vulcan mind meld? This helmet needs a tin foil liner.

  • joe

    I’m guessing that instead of fixing all the problems they lowered the expectations of the helmet. Classic bate and switch.

  • Big-Dean

    and Lockhead PROMISES that this new helmet will come under $1.2 million each and it SHOULD be ready by 2047 and it be ALL things to every pilot and it’s going to be gen 4+ and it’s going to be…..blah blah blah

    Now if they could only get the 6 billion lines of, outsourced to India, code to work properly….


    $500,000 a piece??? It’s just plain unreal …

    • LB71

      But does the helmet actually protect the pilot’s head?

  • Yes, let Lockheed screw up army aviation too.

  • mule

    This system isn’t just the helmet. To make that thing work, there are a bunch of sensors that would need to be added to the helicopter and computing power needed to process, or “fuse”, all that data. Building and producing a brand-new, clean-sheet helicopter is hard enough. The helmet/sensor suite can be added in a block upgrade if it proves itself on the F-35.

  • peters

    Okay, now we know a 10 million dollar LM Stealth Army helicopter proposal is in the works. And when it’s approved and half-complete, the price tag will be around 80 million per copy.

    And the idiots who have been cheering for the F-35 and F-22 will be there BS’ing about why it’s a good deal and why the already insolvent US needed it to fight “terrorists”

  • wtpworrier

    I thought our gun ships already have smart helmets.

  • Mitch S.

    It would be great if they get the helmet system working, but I still have a feeling the taxpayers are getting a helmet jammed up their aperture.

  • outthere

    A better system has already been developed and costs 1/4 as much. State of the art and on 3 weapons systems.

  • check

    $500,000 – what if you drop it getting out the plane?

    • JRL

      You use a 25¢* 9mm bullet to shoot yourself.

      *Civilian retail cost. $25 when acquired in bulk via DOD procurement practice…