“IN THIS style, $400,000.” That price tag for a hat sounds like something out of a tea party attended by Alice. It is actually, though, the expected cost of the world’s most high-tech helmet—one to be worn by pilots of the Lockheed Martin Lightning II, also known as the F-35, which has been developed by America and its allies to replace most of their existing strike aircraft. In the context of a plane costing between $148m and $337m, depending on exactly which model you order (Emphasis added—Ed.), the price of the helmet is, perhaps, trivial. But for that amount you might expect to get something pilots are universally happy with. And they are not.
The helmet is a wonder. Fighter pilots have long been used to a “heads-up” display—an image of cockpit data and targeting information displayed on the windscreen in front them. The F-35 helmet goes much further. Not only does it display that detail, and much else besides, on the helmet’s visor but it also takes video images from six external cameras mounted around the aircraft and shows that as well. This allows the pilot to “look-through” the aircraft at any angle. Want to see what is happening below? Then look down and instead of your lap you see the ground. The projected view also doubles up as a night-vision system, without the pilot having to put on a special set of goggles.
The visor display can also include information from satellites, friendly aircraft and military units on the ground. The pilot’s eyes are tracked by the helmet to rapidly reposition symbols as they look around. If a missile is launched it can be steered towards the target with only the pilot’s gaze. In other warplanes pilots would have to expend “significantly more brainpower” assimilating data from multiple cockpit display screens, some of them not in their line of sight, says Billie Flynn, a test pilot for Lockheed Martin.
The helmet, known as the Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS), has been developed by a joint venture between Rockwell Collins, an American company, and Elbit Systems, an Israeli one, working with Lockheed Martin. Joe DellaVedova, the Pentagon’s spokesman for the F-35, says the combination of aircraft and HMDS means the new warplane can safely handle combat roles that no other can. Such boosterism is backed by numbers: America and its allies plan to order more than 3,100 F-35s.
But some reckon that the helmet’s “political engineering” is as much a marvel as its electronics, says Dan Grazier of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog in Washington, DC. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on The Economist’s website.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: It should be noted that the performance of the F-35’s helmet described above is what the helmet is supposed to do, not its demonstrated performance.
A wide gulf remains between the two, as repeatedly reported by the Pentagon’s own director of Operational Test & Evaluation.
Also worthy of note is that the F-35’s price as reported above – $148m to $337m each -- is still a very long way from the $85m average that Lockheed Martin claims the F-35 will cost in 2019.)