F-35 takes off with helmet display

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Tenth sortie of stealthy combat aircraft debuts 'virtual HUD' that will provide pilot with primary flight information

Lockheed Martin has begun flying the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with the helmet-mounted display system that will be the primary source of flight information for pilots of the stealthy combat aircraft. Initial flights of aircraft AA-1 were conducted using head-down instruments only, as the F-35 has no head-up display and the new HMD provides a "virtual HUD" capability with precise head tracking and low-latency graphics.

Developed by the Vision Systems International joint venture between Elbit Systems' EFW subsidiary and Rockwell Collins, the helmet will also display video from the F-35's distributed-aperture system and electro-optical targeting system. The spherical-coverage DAS will enable the pilot to look anywhere around the aircraft and see infrared threat, target and navigation imagery on the helmet visor. The HMD was used by chief test pilot Jon Beesley for the first time last week, on the 10th test flight of the F-35.

 
© Lockheed Martin   

The system allows the pilot to look anywhere around the aircraft

The engineering development helmet now flying has a 30º x 50º binocular field-of-view, but VSI says it is already testing an improved HMD with continuous visor, fully overlapped 30º x 40º display and a recontoured helmet with better centre of gravity and lower weight. This is expected to fly in the F-35 by year-end.

Developing the JSF HMD has presented tough challenges, particularly clearing the helmet-mounted optics for safe ejection, in the first example at speeds up to 450kt (830km/h). Testing to clear the cockpit, seat and redesigned helmet for the full required 600kt ejection is ongoing, VSI says, although its HMD has passed the 600kt windblast structural test.

Prime contractor Boeing last week received a $68.8 million contract to supply a fourth full-rate production batch of VSI-supplied Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing Systems by December 2009. The systems will be integrated with Boeing F-15s for the US Air Force and F/A-18s for Australia, Canada, Switzerland and the US Navy, plus Lockheed F-16s for Belgium, Greece, Pakistan, Poland and the USAF.