Paris Air Show

Paris 2011: Need for Interim Helmet for F-35 Pilots May Be Decided in August

 - June 22, 2011, 7:20 AM

Following developmental issues with the Joint Strike Fighter’s helmet display that were raised earlier this year, the F-35 Joint Program Office is faced with making a decision this summer on whether to procure an interim helmet/display to use with standard night-vision goggles. Because the JSF cockpit lacks a head-up display, flight data has to be presented on some form of helmet-mounted device, making it a critical system.

Vision Systems International (VSI) of San Jose, California, was selected to provide the F-35 Gen II helmet-mounted display system, which presents flight data and imagery, such as that from the distributed aperture system, on a visor. Latency and jitter problems were encountered, and concerns were raised over the acuity of night-vision imagery.

As a consequence, a request-for-information was issued in early March to BAE Systems, Gentex and VSI for an interim solution based on proven off-the-shelf components, leading to an request-for-proposals on March 18.

The proposal from BAE Systems Platform Solutions draws on a number of the company’s other products. They include the tracked helmet developed for the Typhoon and the Q-Sight helmet-mounted display, the latter on course to complete safety-of-flight qualification at the end of this month.

According to Paul Cooke, director of business development for BAE Systems Defense Avionics, the Eurofighter Typhoon helmet’s system offers very accurate head tracking and low latency, important attributes for a system that could form a primary flight reference source. The Q-Sight sits close to the eye, and allows NVGs to be swung down easily in front of the display, while still offering a wide field of view.

In the meantime, VSI has elected not to respond to the RFP. “We have confidence in our approach,” asserts Drew Brugal, VSI’s president. “We’ve experienced these challenges before on other programs.” VSI has put in place a series of fixes that address the issues, including a new camera in the helmet that produced “very promising results” in its first tests last month.

Next month, government pilots test VSI’s helmet modifications , and the company is confident that the problems will have been overcome. Brugal commented that such issues were not uncommon when system design and development (SDD) had not been completed before production was launched, as is the case with the F-35.

Brugal said he expects that the JPO’s decision on whether an interim helmet was required would be taken in August.