Let’s face it, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a financial disaster for the United States, costing taxpayers US$1.5 trillion, and counting.
Climb into one and strap in, and you might find out why.
Of course, engineers and Air Force brass have said it is worth every single penny. And yes, it is super cool, in the Star Wars sense.
“The helmet is much more than a helmet, the helmet is a workspace,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III at a 2015 press briefing.
“It’s an interpretation of the battle space. It’s situational awareness. Calling this thing a helmet is really…we’ve got to come up with a new word.”
How about, a waste of taxpayer money? Yes, but …
Lockheed Martin explained, “The F-35’s Helmet Mounted Display Systems provide pilots with unprecedented situational awareness. All the information pilots need to complete their missions—airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings — is projected on the helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional Heads-up Display.”
What this means — and what the company claims — is it can reduce the pilot’s workload but also increase responsiveness.
That is an interesting statement, because, one would think it would increase the workload, and possibly create information overload — especially when there is a bogey on your tail and you’re trying to stay alive. Not so, says Lockheed Martin.
To make the helmet work as designed, plug it into a US$100 million F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
There’s no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi here; a Kevlar-sheathed bundle of cords cascades down the side of the shell, providing input/output options for the plane’s communication system and computers, Wired.com reported.
When tethered to the plane, the helmet gives pilots the combined visual capabilities of Superman and Iron Man, if they were flying Wonder Woman’s invisible plane.
The aircraft’s Distributed Aperture System (DAS) streams real-time imagery from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, The National Interest reported.
This essentially allows pilots to “look through” the airframe, while it also provides pilots night vision through the use of an integrated camera.
In addition to the high-tech displays, the helmet’s shell is made out of a “bubble of carbon fiber,” which greatly reduces weight and helps provide rigidity, making it “50 times stronger than carbon steel” — yet it weighs just 4.8 pounds, the National Interest reported.
Each helmet, which is reinforced with Kevlar and provides ballistic protection and noise reduction, is custom-fitted to the wearer. This involves taking a 3D scan of the pilot’s head, which enables precise cutting of a foam liner by a laser.
Then each pilot has his/her eyes measured by a special “pupilometer” to align the optic package to just 2mm off the center of the pupil, which aids in ensuring that images are in the field of vision, The National Interest reported.
According to Wired.com, if the pilot feels that something she sees should be hit by a missile, or just wants a closer look, all he/she has to do is look at it to lock on, then flip a switch to zoom in, or fire away.
The good news is, if it all goes to hell, the pilot can get the same info on the cockpit’s touchscreen displays — something that fighter pilots have done in the past.
Still, one has to wonder what Chuck Yeager would say … I think he’d toss the technology and rely on his superior eyesight to shoot down the enemy. For sure, Chuck would take the supercar instead, saving weary taxpayers a lot of money.
Oh, the helmet comes in any colour you like, as long as you pick dark green.