Volume 04, Issue 4
Point and click
Think new glasses for fighter pilots.
A gun sight always in front of your eyes … a smart aiming display that’s tremendously beneficial during air combat: Forget expending a crucial 60 seconds to maneuver your 25-ton fighter jet to a firing position. Forget losing 10 to 15 seconds peering down at a cockpit display while steering your onboard radar to track and lock onto a target. This gun sight lets you point your head to take aim and take action. And it adds a mere pound (450 grams) to your helmet. You “point and click”—selecting switches on hand controls to cue the radar or other sensors onto targets, mark threats for fellow pilots and ground forces, or launch weapons.
You also get cues: information such as altitude, remaining weapons and fuel, along with symbols indicating where to look for allies—or lurking perils.
This gun sight frees you to watch what’s happening around your aircraft every second—to optimize mission effectiveness and survivability.
It’s Boeing’s response (as project prime contractor and integrator) to a joint request from the U.S. Air Force and Navy: the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS).
In addition to some 1,100 systems it previously bought, the U.S. Department of Defense placed an $81 million order in June for more—to be used by the U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard and Navy. Flying on Boeing F-15 and F/A-18 fighters and the Lockheed F-16, the system is going to 11 other allied air forces as well.
“The helmet was designed for air-to-air combat using the AIM-9X (Sidewinder) heat-seeking missile,” said Mike Rietz, JHMCS program manager. “Now it enables pilots to ‘look … lock … launch’ in air-to-ground warfare too.”
Feedback on the equipment has been upbeat.
Phil King, deputy program manager, said reports after F/A-18 air-to-ground combat in Iraq rated the helmet enormously beneficial. Also, Boeing Test Pilot Dan Draeger tested the helmet on F-15s. “The advantage JHMCS gives pilots,” he said, “is stunning.”
With the cueing system snapped on, a pilot’s standard helmet weighs only about 4.25 pounds (less than 2 kilograms), including plastic visor and microminiaturized parts.
Lightness is important on fighter aircraft, where helmet weight increases dramatically during 9-G (nine-times-gravity) maneuvering—in this case to 38.5 pounds (17.5 kilograms).
“The helmet is very light,” Draeger said. “You don’t feel that much difference, even under G-load, moving your head around.” That’s because it’s also well balanced. With the same center of gravity as the pilot’s head, this is a very steady gun sight.
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