Two weeks ago, at the Farnborough Airshow, US defense manufacturer Rockwell Collins and Elbit Systems of America demonstrated the latest version of their much-delayed Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) for the F-35 aircraft, providing an unprecedented, 360 degree situational awareness for pilots.
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The two companies also made the low key announcement that their joint venture has now delivered the first of these Gen III ESA Vision Systems to Lockheed Martin for software integration into the F-35 Lightning II aircraft.
The Gen III HMDS will be integrated into low rate, initial production for the F-35 program. It may be yet another useful reminder, if one were needed, of the levels of technology development and production cooperation between the United States and Israel.
Phil Jasper, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Government Systems, for Rockwell Collins, said at Farnborough, “This helmet changes the paradigm for the display of information to fighter pilots, ” adding: “It is the first to have a fully integrated head-up display, which gives pilots all the critical information they need on the helmet’s visor. Pilots who have flown this new system have provided positive feedback about their ability to respond faster with reduced workload, resulting in an enhanced ability to complete missions successfully.”
Raanan Horowitz, President and Chief Executive Officer, Elbit Systems of America, said “The HMDS provides F-35 pilots with the most advanced digital night vision and head tracking capabilities available today.” He also said: “Providing an accurate and readable virtual HUD with high resolution night vision, combined with low latency, is essential to the execution of the F-35 complex missions during day and night operations.”
The HMDS features a binocular, 40×30 degrees field-of-view, high brightness and high resolution display, with integrated digital night vision.
When fully integrated with the aircraft sensors and systems, the HMDS provides the F-35 pilot with unparalleled situational awareness. The HMDS displays the Distributed Aperture System (DAS) imagery from Northrop Grumman, which gives pilots the ability to see through the structure of the aircraft for a 360-degree view, as well as a direct picture of the ground beneath them.
The system provides a lightweight HMDS, with optimized center of gravity and maximum comfort for reduced pilot fatigue. Everything about the F-35 Gen III HMDS is designed to enhance the fighter pilot’s precision, efficiency and safety, while reducing the overall cost of the program.
The Gen III design includes improved optics, image device and backlight, along with enhanced head tracking capability and the next generation Night Vision Camera, providing equivalent performance to ANVIS-9 NVGs.
Rockwell Collins is responsible for the overall HMDS performance and the helmet mounted display components, while Elbit is responsible for the Night Vision Cameras, helmet tracking and display processing components.
The deployment of the Gen III version of the new helmet, at a basic cost of around $600, 000 each, excluding the software that goes into it, has justified the abandonment last October of a parallel back-up program with British firm BAE Systems, as all of the earlier problems that faced the Rockwell Collins-Elbit Systems program were overcome.
Those included inadequate image stabilization, making the images on display jittery, which could make the pilots sick.