BAE Systems to provide new helmet display for F-35 pilots


October 21, 2011

BAE Systems has been selected by Lockheed Martin to supply a Night Vision Goggle Helmet Mounted Display system for the F-35 (Photo: BAE Systems)

BAE Systems has been selected by Lockheed Martin to supply a Night Vision Goggle Helmet Mounted Display system for the F-35 (Photo: BAE Systems)

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When it enters service, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will lay claim to the title of the most advanced warplane in the world. Its pilots will have the most advanced helmets as well ... and there's more to it than protecting the pilot's head against knocks. The F-35's Gen II Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) developed by Vision Systems International (VSI) may have the alarming appearance of a robot insect, but it will give F-35 pilots Superman-like vision. By gathering input from cameras scattered about the fighter plane, the HMDS effectively makes the aircraft invisible-at least, from the pilot's point of view. It even provides night vision, so the pilot doesn't have to wear cumbersome goggles. At least, that's the idea. Unfortunately, the gap between designing the helmet and building it has proven wider than originally thought and issues such as poor image quality are so severe that the F35's testing program faces serious delays, so F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin brought in BAE Systems to provide a substitute.

VSI's F35 Gen II Helmet Mounted Display System (Photo: VSI)

BAE Systems had developed a similar helmet for the Typhoon fighter. It, too, is state of the art and involves a massive forehead piece filled with computerized electronics that gives pilots a spherical view of the outside world as if the plane had vanished. The only fly in the ointment is that the Typhoon helmet isn't compatible with the F-35's systems, so all the electronics will be scooped out and a simpler solution found. The F-35 pilot will lose the giant fishbowl vision, but BAE systems plan to incorporate their Night Vision Goggle Helmet Mounted Display (NVG HMD) system, which incorporates the latest Q-SIGHT heads-up display of flight information and allows optical tracking of weapons. That's a bland way of saying that the missiles go where the pilot is looking. It also allows for night vision goggles to used without interfering with the displays or tracking function.

Of course, this substitute helmet is not intended as a replacement for the VSI version, but it does allow the testing program to go forward without being grounded by problems with what is essentially an information display system. However, if the BAE Systems substitute proves successful and the problems with the VSI helmet cannot be resolved, then it is possible that the imaging and other technologies of the VSI helmet will be incorporated into the BAE systems substitute.

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

I always thought a good idea was to make the cockpit window a transparent display. Have iconic threats displayed on it and all the pilot have to do, is keep the threat at the front of his aircraft, to intercept. If the cockpit window became useless, he could use his electronic displays. It seems rather silly not to have one and it opens up the pilots field of view and expands on it.

Robert Burke

The introductory sentence should be rewritten: When it enters service, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will lay claim to the title of the most over-hyped, under-performing warplane in the world.

The Pentagon never learns. The last time it wanted a single, all-singing, all-dancing airplane to equip both the USAF and USN --the F-111-- it ultimately ended up having to develop the F-14 and F-15 because the F-111 couldn\'t live up to the promise.

Money would be better spent elsewhere.


re; iamwho2k

The F-35 program is three different airplanes with a very high degree of interchangeable parts.

It was not the Pentagon pushing the F-111 as a do all airplane, it was Strange McNamara and congress, the Air Force got what they wanted from the program; a fast, long ranged, and maneuverable medium bomber.


The BAE helmet uses a Helmet Tracking System developed and manufactured by Denel Optronics in South Africa. The HTS comprises three cockpit sensors "essentially tiny video cameras" that detect a series of LEDs embedded in the pilot's helmet. 450 systems were orded in 2003 for use on the Typhoon (UK) and Gripens (South Africa, Sweden).

Very few people are aware that South Africa was the original designer of Helmet Mounted Systems and that the first operational jet fighters with HMD (Mirage F1AZ) were fielded by the South African Air Force in the mid-1970s! . After the South African system had been proven in combat, playing a role in downing Soviet aircraft over Angola, the Soviets embarked on a crash program (including 'obtaining' the plans to the South African system by Soviet spy Dieter Gerhardt) to counter the technology. As a result, the MiG-29 was fielded in 1985 with an HMD and a high off-boresight weapon (AA-11 Archer/R-73), giving them an advantage in close in maneuvering engagements.

Further info on Helmet Mounted Display Systems can be found at

Flying Dutchman
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