Air Force tests new lightweight F-35 helmet
- By Kris Osborn
- May 18, 2017
Air Force engineers are producing a new lightweight helmet and reconfigured ejection seat system to improve safety and lower the weight for its fleet of F-35 pilots.
The new helmet, called the GEN III Light Helmet, is now in pre-production in preparation for full production this fall, senior service officials said. The first flights with the new helmet are slated for 2018.
The new seat and helmet combination is designed to lower the risk for both high-speed and low-speed ejections, developers said.
“We’ve done rigorous testing, and it is clear that the combination of the lighter helmet and delay in the opening speed of the parachute and helmet with head support panel significantly improve safety,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, Director of the F-35 Integration Office.
Reducing the weight burden for pilots involved a number of adjustments to the helmet, such as replacing an external visor with quickly-changeable clear and dark visors. The existing visor has separate sun visors and clear visors which lower from an external position.
New configurations for the GEN III also include removing some of the strapping inside the helmet.
The new seat and helmet together now weigh below 136 pounds; the service is modifying 14 seats per month as part of a broader plan to equip all 107 airplanes in the fleet. Pleus said the current plan is to finish the entire fleet by December of this year or January of 2018.
“Flying fighters is an inherently dangerous business. Ejecting from an aircraft means something catastrophic has already happened. It is the Air Force intent to give pilots the best chance to survive as possible. I have personally briefed every F-35 pilot in the Air Force. I can assure you they are confident to fly in this aircraft every day,” Pleus said.
The F-35 Helmet Mounted Display System already incorporates a handful of innovations not seen in other aircraft. Important data such as airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warning are projected right onto the helmet visor – as opposed to a traditional heads-up display.
The F-35’s Distributed Aperture System streams real-time imagery from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft, allowing pilots to look through the airframe. The helmet also provides pilots night vision through the use of an integrated camera, said Lockheed Martin in a statement.
Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.