Air helmets. Virtual reality in real combat

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Air helmets. Virtual reality in real combat
Air helmets. Virtual reality in real combat

Aviation safety helmets have come a long way from the clumsy designs of the past century to the ultra-technological products of the 21st century. Now it is not just an element of defense, but a real computer that plays an important role in an air duel.

Air helmet

In the service of Russia

Even when it comes to testing the latest aircraft systems, such as the T-50 PAK FA, the Russian Air Force pilots use ZSH (protective helmets) created during the Soviet era. Su-27 or L-39 pilots use ZSH-7APN, and MiG-29 pilots use ZSH-7AP. In the 1980s, such helmets could be considered very modern. Moreover, Soviet pilots were almost the first in the world to receive a helmet-mounted display system.


The target designation system "Shchel-ZUM" is intended for the Su-27 and MiG-29: the sighting device is attached to the helmet and creates an optical illusion of the sight. Thanks to this, the pilot can lock the target, even if it is outside the operating radius of the indicator on the aircraft windshield. To lock the target, you do not need to turn the fighter in its direction, just turn your head towards the enemy and press the "Capture" button. In close air combat, such an opportunity can be extremely useful, allowing you to send air-to-air missiles with an infrared homing system to the enemy.

In our time, the target designation system "Shchel-ZUM" is used extremely rarely: it has problems of a technical nature, and morally it has long become outdated. Therefore, when a new ZSH-10 air helmet was being prepared to replace the ZSH-7, it was also optimized for the new Sura display system, which was being developed at the Arsenal Design Bureau. It consists of a sighting device, a folding eyepiece and LEDs that monitor the turns of the pilot's head. However, for all its novelty "Sura", like its predecessor "Shchel", performs only the function of target designation. It is difficult to compare them with their truly multifunctional counterparts, such as the F-35 HMDS pilot's helmet.


The problems of ZSH-7 helmets lie not only in outdated technologies, but also in the low quality of production: helmets made in Russia often simply leave black traces of imprinted paint on the head. In addition, as was often the case with Soviet developments, the creators thought about ergonomics last. The pilots describe them as very uncomfortable in flight, and the price of new products is high.

However, the deal with the ZSH-10 did not go beyond arms exhibitions and loud statements, and now a new air helmet is being designed on its basis. Its creation was largely due to the appearance of the PAK FA, the prototype of the fifth generation Russian fighter. Especially for the new aircraft, NPP Zvezda is developing a new system with a helmet-mounted display. According to chief designer Sergei Pozdnyakov, the issues of product ergonomics have already been resolved, and now it is up to the development of display systems. It is assumed that some of the information will be displayed on a special display, complementing the data of the indicator on the windshield.

In parallel to Zvezda, the Russian concern Radioelectronic Technologies is also working on a new helmet. It is expected that their new helmet-mounted target designation and display system will allow pilots to see day and night, in any weather conditions, and a binocular indicator will enable them to more efficiently perform combat missions. In addition, the use of new materials has made the protective helmet relatively light - in the version for daytime flights, it will weigh no more than 2 kg. In a modern fighter jet, this is especially true, because with strong overloads, the weight of the helmet increases many times over.

As is often the case with the domestic military-industrial complex, there is little information about the new development.But note: there is nothing revolutionary in these systems. Russian gunsmiths have followed the beaten track here and are rather trying to create analogs of technologies successfully tested in the West.

It is not surprising that against this background, more and more experts are making statements that Russia is better off acquiring Israeli or European helmet-mounted display systems than investing in another stillborn project. So far, such proposals remain only on paper, but trends show that every year domestic aviation uses more and more foreign components. We are talking not only about the element base, but also about finished products - most likely, at some point, the turn of aviation helmets and associated electronic subsystems will come.


Apache headdress

Pilots of the American AH-64 Apache attack helicopters actively use the IHADSS (Integrated Helmet And Display Sight System) helmet-mounted system. It is a very representative example of "air helmet" technology. Let's try to figure out how it works.


A monocle is mounted on the AH-64 pilot's helmet, which provides flight information (speed, altitude, etc.), and also allows the pilot to aim the weapon with one turn of the head. The 30-mm M230 Chain Gun, located on a turntable at the bottom of the helicopter, is guided - in the literal sense of the word - with the pilot's gaze. IHADSS allows you to target the main caliber of the helicopter, the AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

Unfortunately, high technologies are not always compatible with the capabilities of the body. The same IHADSS monocle is attached above the pilot's right eye, while the left eye looks at the world “the old way”. Due to the inconsistency of information coming from the two eyes, even during the first training sessions, Apache pilots can develop severe headaches. Gradually, the vision gets used to the new working conditions, but as soon as the pilot takes a break from training, the problems can return.

Overall, however, the AH-64 pilot's helmet is a modern and highly efficient model. It allows you to fly a helicopter in any conditions and displays visual information, including information received in the infrared range - from night vision devices. The IHADSS system is used not only by the Americans, but also by the Italian pilots of the Agusta A129 Mangusta attack helicopters.

A promising helmet-mounted target designation and indication system NSCI-V may become a Russian analogue of IHADSS. It is intended for Mi-28N pilots. There is little data about this system, and no timeframe for implementation can be named.

Apache pilots' uneasy relationship with IHADSS indication systems is described in the popular book by British helicopter pilot Ed Macy, in which he talks about his service in Afghanistan in 2006-2007. Similar difficulties are played out in one of the episodes of the film "Birds of Fire".

Opportunities for the new century

The times when the Shchel-ZUM target designation system was considered modern are in the past. Now the helmet-mounted systems are faced with fundamentally new tasks. In addition to target designation, they must display tactical and navigational information, flight data, and also maintain registration. The latter means that the helmet must have a miniature video camera capable of recording the entire course of the combat mission, from and to.

In Western terminology, such systems are called Helmet-Mounted Display, and IHADSS and Shchel-ZUM are among them. Over the past ten years, advanced helmet-mounted display systems have become widespread, although modern military technology is not cheap, and the price of such systems can reach $ 1 million.

As a rule, a helmet-mounted display system consists of five main parts: the helmet itself, an optical system, an image source, a complex of electronic systems, and a pilot's eye tracking device. This may also include devices that allow you to fly at night. The simplest of these is night vision goggles, which are attached to the pilot's helmet.

Among American systems, the helmet-mounted JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System), developed by Vision Systems International, gained particular fame. In 2003, these helmets were received by the F / A-18E / F pilots of the US Navy, and in 2008 a major contract was signed for the supply of the complex for the Air Force. Now pilots F-15 and F-16 can improve their performance in close air combat.


The JHMCS system works something like this: a pair of LEDs projects the sight frame onto the helmet, allowing you to aim at the target without using the control sticks. Strictly speaking, there is nothing original in this, something similar is used in the Apache pilots' helmet, and was tested back in the USSR. But JHMCS is a truly advanced and functional system. The target designation limit is 80 ° relative to the aircraft axis - a very good indicator for this kind of systems. And the reliability of modern devices is incomparably higher. Boeing, the developer of the device, is now offering a new variant of the JHMCS II.


While the AIM-9X missile provides substantial superiority in close-range aerial combat, combat of this kind seems to be a thing of the past. Over the past decades, almost all air targets have been hit by medium-range missiles by fighter pilots while they remained out of line of sight. Perhaps it was this circumstance that prompted the creators of the F-35 to abandon the placement of short-range missiles in the internal compartments of the aircraft. The AIM-9X can be mounted on the external harnesses of the F-35, but this is a last resort, as such placement will increase the aircraft's radar visibility.

Pilots of the American A-10C attack aircraft use the new HMCS (Helmet Mounted Cueing System), and the pilots of the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen fighters use the Cobra helmet display.

The creation of the JHMCS was driven by the adoption in 2002 of the modified AIM-9X missiles, still one of the most advanced short-range air-to-air missiles. Although it implements the good old principle of thermal guidance, infrared traps (a traditional means of protection against such missiles) are powerless against it: the newest matrix seeker of the missile forms an infrared image of the target even before launch, then only correcting the data on the enemy. In the Russian Air Force, such a bundle can be a promising helmet-mounted display system and the RVV-MD short-range missile under development.

Helmet under the "Lightning"

But the real revolution in aerial combat tactics will be the new system designed for the F-35 Lighting II. Its advantages over past generations of helmet-mounted display systems are enormous. If previously such systems only supplemented the dashboard, then HMDS allows the pilot to forget about it altogether: key information will be displayed, first of all, on the display of the air helmet. The F-35 sensors provide all-round visibility and warn the pilot of the danger, no matter from which side it may come. The HMDS system allows you to see literally through the aircraft, and at night - to be guided by the image obtained using the infrared survey system.


Helmet display systems are being developed for all modern combat aircraft. For its aviation industry, the French company Thales has created the TopOwl system, which will be used not only on Rafale and Mirage aircraft, but also on MiG-29K / KUB carrier-based fighters, which are manufactured by Russia for the Indian Air Force.

Building such a system is a long and tortuous journey, and the development of the HMDS (like many of the other complex components of the F-35) is far from smooth. The timing of testing and acceptance into service is constantly being postponed, and the cost is constantly increasing.


Delays in the creation of HMDS led to the idea of ​​an alternative helmet for the F-35, inspired by British gunsmiths from BAE Systems. Their project was greeted with coolness: for the new system, the F-35 cockpit would have to be seriously modified. Therefore, today pilots are testing a modification of the American HMDS Gen 2. With each new generation, emerging problems will be eliminated and the software will be updated.

Unlike the F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon boasts super-maneuverability. However, whether this is a factor of real superiority is debatable. Making a sharp maneuver, the plane loses precious energy of movement and becomes especially vulnerable to missiles, so super-maneuverability is unlikely to significantly help in a real air combat.

However, the Europeans do not intend to surrender, and BAE Systems switched to development for their own 4 ++ generation combat vehicles Eurofighter Typhoon, which is ready to compete with the F-35 generation 5. Their Helmet Equipment Assembly (HEA) looks frightening even against the backdrop of the futuristic HMDS. Its entire rear part is strewn with many bumps of infrared LEDs, thanks to which the pilot of the Eurofighter Typhoon retains "X-ray" vision even in the dark. It does not matter whether he looks forward, to the side or down: cameras built into the fuselage give the pilot an all-round view and allow him to look through the fuselage of the aircraft.


Looking at the helmets of modern combat aircraft, it is difficult to abandon the idea that the future has already arrived. Although their cost can be high and their operation is associated with risks, such systems have already revolutionized air combat.

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