F-35 test pilots with the U.S. Air Force’s 461st Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, will begin using a third-generation helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) in the next few weeks. The updated HMDS incorporates fixes to the current generation system, which pilots found inadequate and the Pentagon labeled as a technical risk to the F-35 program.
Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow on Tuesday, Raanan Horowitz, Elbit Systems of America president and CEO, said his company will soon begin delivering the “Gen 3” helmet to F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which plans to introduce the new HMDS in low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 7 of the jet, the next production lot. The joint venture of Elbit and Rockwell Collins, called Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems LLC, supplies the HMDS for the F-35.
In 2011, the Pentagon identified the HMDS–critical for a fighter with no head-up display–as one of several F-35 program risks. It found that the Gen 2 system was deficient in the areas of night-vision acuity, display jitter during aircraft buffeting and image latency from the F-35’s electro-optical distributed aperture system (DAS).
Horowitz said the Gen 3 HMDS comes with improved night vision from a new Intevac Photonics sensor based on electron-bombarded activated pixel sensor (EBAPS) technology, an integrated inertial measurement unit to track head movement and automated software alignment. Intevac delivers sensors to Elbit Systems of America, which builds the sensor into the night-vision camera.
Rockwell Collins is exhibiting the F-35 helmet for the first time at the Farnborough Airshow (Hall 4 Stand F9) and providing demonstrations to emphasize its situational-awareness products. The helmet on display is a Gen 2 HMDS.
Alan Norman, F-35 chief test pilot, said other test pilots have flown the current-generation helmet with Gen 3 fixes. Issues such as display jitter from aircraft buffeting have been “smoothed out to the satisfaction of the pilots and from our test-pilot point of view, we’re happy with it,” he said.
The first Gen 3 helmet will be deployed on the AF-3 test jet, an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing jet, which has the same software configuration of LRIP 7 jets. “That will be our first good look at how the Gen 3 helmet is doing,” Norman said.