Paris 2011: Typhoon helmet nears front line

 - June 19, 2011, 6:45 AM

Typhoon pilots with Britain’s Royal Air Force will soon be flying with a helmet-mounted system that will significantly increase their situational awareness (SA), particularly in the air-to-air role. Known as the helmet-mounted symbology system (HMSS), the helmet is built by the BAE Systems Platform Solutions facility at Rochester in the southeast of England and is currently undergoing operational evaluation and tactical development with the RAF’s No. 17 Test and Evaluation Squadron at Coningsby, with the aim of fielding it later this year. Other Typhoon operators will follow and are modifying aircraft for use with the HMSS, but different clearance procedures means it is the RAF that is taking the lead.

Weighing in at just over four pounds with the mask, the HMSS comprises an outer helmet covered with an array of pulsing LEDs. Three fixed tracking sensors are mounted in the cockpit (one on each side and one behind the seat) that measure the angles of three of the LEDs to establish a highly accurate position of the pilot’s head. The tracking system automatically selects which three LEDs are measured in order to provide the most accurate information, in turn allowing precise head-tracking across the entire range of possible head movement.

The HMSS is fully integrated with the aircraft’s weapon system so that fuzed sensor information–from both onboard and offboard sources–is presented along with crucial flight data on the helmet visor. Targets that are outside the cockpit’s visual limits can still be “seen” through the skin of the aircraft. Voice command allows targets to be locked and prioritized

In the air-to-air role, in which it is usually the weapon system telling the pilot where targets are, the HMSS combines with advanced weapons to provide a clear advantage in air combat at shorter ranges. “With the HMSS the ‘knife fight in a phone box’ is a thing of the past,” said Mark Bowman, chief test pilot of BAE Systems MAI. “Combining this big SA with the digital ASRAAM gives a very high kill rate.” For air-to-ground work, the HMSS can be used to cue the weapons system to look at particular areas of interest, slewing the radar and other sensors to where the pilot is looking.

Currently, the HMSS can be used to steer the Captor radar, Pirate IRST and missiles. It does not yet have a full night-vision capability so that, for the time being, night-vision goggles are used, with some limits on maneuvering imposed by aeromedical concerns.

Development work is under way to provide night-vision functionality and to increase the amount of imagery that can be displayed. Other efforts are aimed at preparing the HMSS for use with the Meteor air-to-air missile and e-scan radar, for which new symbology sets are being devised.

BAE Systems is working toward greater customization of the human-machine interface to tailor displays and information to both operational requirements and personal preferences. The concept of a helmet system that can be set up to a pilot’s display preferences, and then individually refined and used throughout their career is one avenue being explored.