15 August 2015

Rockwell Collins F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System

Developed and built by the Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems LLC joint venture that includes Elbit Systems of America (formerly known as Vision Systems International LLC), the Gen 3 helmet features an improved night-vision camera, improved liquid-crystal displays, automated alignment, and software improvements is to be introduced to the fleet in low-rate initial production Lot 7 in 2016.

The HMDS, which was handed over during a ceremony at the company's Cedar Rapids headquarters in Iowa, is designed to display to the pilot the F-35's more advanced sensor fusion capabilities. As noted by the company, the Gen 3 HMDS provides the information via the helmet's visor, with the pilot able to 'see through' the airframe by means of the Distributed Aperture System (DAS) that streams real-time imagery from six infrared (IR) cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet.

The first Generation 3 (Gen 3 / III) helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has been delivered to the Joint Program Office (JPO).

Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems LLC also developed the Gen 1 (I) helmet, which was used primarily for flight safety tests, and has delivered 200 of the Gen 2 (II) helmet that JSF pilots currently use. The Gen 2 helmet was used by the US Marine Corps (USMC) to declare initial operational capability (IOC) for the F-35B at the end of July.

This Gen 2 helmet, while still capable of conducting night-flying operations including ship landings and aerial refuelling, suffers from problems with visual acuity of the secondary night-vision camera. In light of these problems, BAE Systems was contracted to build an alternative HMDS, though this was cancelled in 2010 when the USMC decided that IOC could still be declared with the (then) current Gen 2 helmet (the cancelled BAE Systems helmet was later fed into the company's Striker II system). 

Though not ideal, the Gen 2 helmet is said to be preferable to conventional night-vision goggles (NVGs) when landing on a ship, according to the test pilots that have used it. As well as providing additional capabilities, the latest Gen 3 helmet corrects the visual acuity problems of the Gen 2 system.

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