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.

  • BlackOwl18E

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

    • Atomic Walrus

      Betting against engineers fixing issues in electronic devices is a pretty bad bet. All reports indicate that they’ve made a lot of progress resolving issues with jitter and integration of night vision. Assuming they get that done, why wouldn’t you want to introduce the F-35 capability in an aircraft like the F-18E? You’ve been pretty vocal about what you see as the F-35’s kinematic shortcomings. This would take what’s touted by F-35 advocates as one of its key advantages and port it to other platforms.

    • Red

      Has BlackOwl ever written any comment that wasn’t anti-F-35?

      • ChuckL

        If he hasn’t, I like him.
        If the money that was wasted on the F-35 had been used instead on the F-22, we would now have a decent air defense force with great capability.
        Air Power Australia has on their website a great replacement for the F-14 by minor changes in the F-22. that involve making it capable of carrier operation.

        • William_C1

          Out of all of APA’s wacky ideas the “navalized” F-22 one is by far the most crazy. Navalizing an aircraft for sustained carrier operations is not that easy.

  • 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.

    • Dylan

      Never heard of bate and switch. Bait and switch, however, seems to ring a bell! Maybe if you had some sort of helmet to let you see through your hands to the keyboard, and feed you critical spelling information as you typed poor comments?

      • Brian B. Mulholland

        His spelling might be a bit off, but his point is well made. Lowering the performance requirements for the helmet and the entire sensor-fusion system would be easy to do, since no one outside a closed community knows what those requirements are in the first place. The AF has had to admit to reduced requirements for transonic acceleration, etc., already; why not this too?

        • Dylan

          Reduced requirements would be hidden, as you say…as would requirements creep that has killed off several major acquisitions projects and bloated the cost of others beyond recognition. Whatever the negative attitude towards the F-35, (and however well deserved it may be), the capabilities of that type of helmet are essential for the future of manned aviation, and Lockheed throwing their hat in the ring can only be a good thing.

          • Brian B. Mulholland

            Can’t disagree with you there. High-order integration of multiple sensors might be almost as dramatic as stealth, as an advantage, if we have a useful window in deploying it.

            As for Lockheed, my major concern is that their initial entry into this not become an edge that bars NG from forthcoming competitions for the strategic bomber (by whatever name) and the next-generation strike fighter that Boeing is yearning to build for the Navy, once the Navy is talked out of the F-35 and into an interim build of F-18s. If I were king tomorrow I’d bar L-M from either project, on the theory that they simply don’t have the software engineering capacity to take on more than one project capacity. They’ll get rich enough on the F-35, and then on the midlife reworking of the F-22.

  • 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”

    • ChuckL

      There is a major fallacy in the pricing system of military procurement. Design, develpment, and production are integrated, and developmnets that are multi-use are not properly accounted for.

  • wtpworrier

    I thought our gun ships already have smart helmets.

    • Atomic Walrus

      They’ve got a helmet-mounted sight based on late ’70s technology. Apparently it requires a great deal of practice to get used to it (according to a British book called “Apache”, anyway) Comparing it with the F-35 helmet is kind of like comparing a Motorola STARTAC to an Apple iPhone 5.

      • Dylan

        A more direct comparison might be the old Nintendo VirtualBoy versus the Oculus Rift. Imagine the canyon-sized leap in capability this helmet would represent to chopper pilots flying at low levels and in low light environments. Next-gen helicopter project is one to watch!

  • 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?