Fighter pilot helmets today are technological wonders. The Boeing (NYSE:BA) Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), for instance, is used by the pilot to aim air-to-air missiles, sensors, radar, and air-to-ground weapons by simply looking at the desired target.
The JHMCS projects multiple types of data in a "heads-up" type display on the visor so the pilot doesn't have to look at instrument panels in critical moments. The helmet is also versatile, being used with various other aircraft besides the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
I spoke with retired rear admiral Matt Moffit about these helmets at the recent Sea-Air-Space Expo near Washington, D.C. Moffit, vice president of navy systems for Boeing, flew plenty of aircraft in his day. In this video, he explains how much the new fighter helmets have evolved.
Gen One version of the helmet -- of course the helmet I had while I was flying wasn't integrated at all. You could hear things, you looked out through the lens, it was a normal kind of helmet. The helmet now is actually portraying information on the helmet lens. And that information is basically integrated information from the sensors that are on the aircraft -- whether it's the radar, the FLIR, the IRST -- all those sensor indications are now showing up on the lens of the helmet. So wherever you turn and look, you get that sensor information, where historically you didn't have that. You had a small display for radar, and that's what you saw within the physical limits of that radar's ability to track things or see things that was it. You actually had to turn the airplane if you reached the gimbal limit of that radar. So now you can turn your head and some of those sensors will actually track around with you.
The future of course is you'd like this omnipresent view. At some point, you're going to be able to look around anywhere and see these things night or day. The night issue really isn't that big an issue any more. Even war fighters on the ground run around with NVG -- night vision goggles. But it is a significant difference in the air because, I can remember my day when you were flying on a moonless night under the clouds, it gets really dark. And so having the ability to see things you couldn't see with the human eye, at night, changes the game completely. And you saw some of that in Desert Storm when they had the night-vision cameras tracking aircraft and all the activity that was taking place. Now you're inside the cockpit and you're able to see everything that you could never see before in my day. And my dad who was a fighter pilot in World War II in Korea -- I mean, totally different environment that we're operating in. And of course the threat is advancing too, so you have to keep up and ahead of that, and night-vision goggles help you do that.