Fighter Jet News

F-35 Lightning II News

F-35 to get a 2nd source for the HMD system

November 21, 2011 (by Jason Hodgkiss) - Lockheed Martin has selected British based BAE (British Aerospace) Systems to deliver a helmet-mounted display (HMD) with detachable night-vision goggles for the F-35 Lightning II.

Jon Beelsey ready to go for the 10th test flight, the first flight with the Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS). [Photo courtesy of Rockwell Collins Inc.]

The selection of the BAE Q-Sight helmet system put further pressure on the original supplier VSI, the Elbit Systems-Rockwell Collins joint venture, to fix the long know problems with this critical piece of hardware on the F-35.

"The [Q-Sight helmet's display] will enable all aspects of flight operations," said Jim Garceau, the vice-president and general manager of BAE's defence avionics division.

BAE will start delivering Q-Sight helmets in 2012 with a new feature uniquely required for the F-35. The optical head tracking system will be integrated, allowing the pilot to aim weapons and navigate by looking in any direction.

Unlike most fighters developed since the 1970s, the F-35 was designed without a head-up display (HUD) that means the helmet must function as primary flight displays when the pilot looks outside the cockpit.

The VSI joint venture won the first development contract, offering a display with an integrated night-vision system.

However, VSI has struggled with technical glitches. In April, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the VSI display especially suffers from latency, meaning the display does not keep up with the pilot's head movements. Deficiencies have also been found with night operations, weapons aiming accuracy and laser eye protection, the GAO said.

The programmer needs one of the helmet suppliers to develop a working display quickly. The GAO report warned that the F-35 cockpit will require a major redesign if the helmet-mounted display problems are not solved.

Meanwhile, the director of the office of test and evaluation reported in 2009 that a working helmet is need to allow the F-35 to fly with upgraded Block II software, due in late 2012

In response to Lockheed's announced selection of the Q-Sight helmet, VSI released a statement accepting the government's decision.

"This will allow our company the room to mature our integrated (NVG) night vision capability," the company said.

"VSI is confident that within a very short time, our F-35 [helmet-mounted display system] will provide all the fifth-generation HMD capabilities integral to the F-35."