Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet of the future is finally getting the pilot’s helmet to match.
The F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) built by Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems International combines infrared, night-vision, augmented and virtual reality to let pilots see more than ever before — including right down through the plane itself.
Lockheed, which is the manufacturing three different versions of the F-35 for the Air Force, Marines and Navy under the Joint Strike Fighter program, took delivery of 160 helmets earlier this week — the most advanced and expensive ever built at $600,000 a piece, not including the cost linking the helmet to a cockpit’s software system.
The helmet draws video feeds from the plane’s Distributed Aperture System — six HD and infrared cameras located around the jet’s exterior that, when combined, give the pilot a full 360-degree view around and through the aircraft from right inside the cockpit. Navigation and targeting — traditionally visible on a conventional fighter’s cockpit heads-up display — are also integrated into the helmet view, making it an essential component to the most-advanced (and expensive) multi-purpose weapons system ever built. (RELATED: Pentagon Approves Limited Flight For F-35 Ahead Of Potential Air Show Debut)
As a result of the information displayed by the helmet, the remainder of the F-35 features an incredibly stripped-down design compared to other conventional fighter aircraft, relying on a large touchscreen display and voice-activation for control of the cockpit’s systems.
The Gen III helmet was nearly scrapped in favor of a model with similar capabilities from defense contractor BAE Systems after the Gen II prototype gave pilots motion sickness from VR camera lag. Pilots further complained about the display bumping uncontrollably when the jet experienced in-flight vibration, and about its limited night-vision range, which was reportedly far below what’s necessary for combat situations, according to an Ars Technica report. (RELATED: Fighter Pilots Are Getting New Helmets Fit For Iron Man)
Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems International’s third generation helmet has since received 15,000 hours of flight testing, and was approved by Lockheed and the Pentagon last October.