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If you wait around long enough sometimes reality gets closer to science fiction. In the 1982 film “Firefox” Clint Eastwood plays an American pilot assigned to steal a highly advanced Soviet fighter aircraft which, among other things, uses a helmet that allows the pilot to control weapons launch through thought. Recently, Rockwell Collins introduced the Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) for the F-35 aircraft that allows pilots in aircraft equipped with the system to simply look at a target within the 360 degree heads up display helmet to aim and fire their weapons. The pilot also receives target verification when receiving steering cues from onboard sensors or via datalink.


The helmet allows pilots to maintain spatial orientation of their surroundings and continually monitor critical flight information. For night missions, the HMDS projects the night vision scene directly onto the visor, eliminating the need for separate night vision goggles. All the information that pilots need to complete their missions through all weather, day or night is projected on the helmet’s visor, including sensor video. Additionally, the F-35’s Distributed Aperture System (DAS), made by Northrop Grumman, streams real-time imagery from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, allowing pilots to “look through” the airframe.


The HMDS serves as the virtual head-up display, enabling the F-35 to become the first tactical fighter in 50 years without a traditional head-up display. The helmet provides a 360-degree field-of-view and the pilot’s vantage point entirely remains outside of the aircraft; if the pilot were to tilt his head downward, for example, he’d have a view of the earth rather than a view of his legs.


Each helmet weighs approximately five pounds and is custom built and adjusted for each pilot during a two-day process so as to account for variables such as horizontal and vertical alignment of the pupils and eye spacing, to eliminate the possibility of motion sickness that sometimes comes along with 3D virtual reality headsets. The Gen III helmet will be introduced to the fleet in 2016.