This is what the future helmet for U.S. Air Force fighter pilots will look like
The U.S. Air Force has selected LIFT Airborne Technologies to continue development of a prototype for a new fixed-wing aircrew helmet to incorporate all the technological advances that have emerged in recent decades, considering that the current design is more than 40 years old.
The prototype helmet was chosen after Air Combat Command initiated a search for a next-generation helmet to address issues with long-term neck and back injuries, optimize aircraft technology, improve pilot longevity and provide a better fit for a variety of aircrews.
“The current helmet was based on the 1980 design. Since then, advances in aircraft technology and pilot demographics have changed,” said Scott Cota, aircrew flight equipment program analyst for ACC’s Plans and Requirements branch. “The legacy helmet was not originally designed to support advances in aircraft helmet-mounted display systems, which resulted in pilots flying with equipment not optimized for them, especially our female aircrew.”
The implementation of helmet-mounted devices has added weight and shifted the center of gravity, creating discomfort for operators. In addition, a 2020 Air Force anthropometric study identified the need to add a small helmet size that would better optimize fit for affected female airmen, Cota said.
The helmet requirement was one of the first initiatives to go through AFWERX , an Air Force organization focused on working with nontraditional defense companies to bring technological innovation, in 2019.
Key parameters identified were weight, pilot comfort, optimized fit and protection, stability, optimized center of gravity and integration with different helmet-mounted systems.
“Using a streamlined procurement process to move the program forward, AFLCMC took the AFWERX initiative and solicited more than 100 different designs from the industry. The designs were evaluated and submitted for additional testing,” said Capt. Timothy James, program manager, Agile Combat Support Directorate, AFLCMC Human Systems Division. “The innovative process has allowed us to move faster than a standard acquisition while providing checks and balances to ensure a quality product.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory performed the majority of the testing, but AFLCMC also worked with the Airborne Accommodation Laboratory, the Life Support Systems Science, Test, Analysis and Qualification Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, as well as the 46th Test Squadron and the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin AFB in Florida to narrow the finalist to LIFT Airborne Technologies.
The helmet will undergo additional research, testing and improvements before the Air Force confirms the prototype design is successful and offers a production contract in 2024. Air Combat Command plans to take a phased approach to deliver the new helmet to all fixed-wing aircrews, starting with F-15E Strike Eagle pilots .