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Safer sorties: Fighter pilots get ‘X-ray vision’ with new Striker helmet

Striker helmet from BAEWith anti-aircraft weaponry becoming ever more sophisticated, fighter pilots need all the help they can get to secure their safety, with split-second decisions making the difference between dinner back at base and a life-ending fireball.

To help better inform those life-and-death decisions, UK-based defense contractor BAE Systems has developed a new kind of helmet that allows pilots to see outside the aircraft in every direction, even through its solid metal hull.

The Striker helmet uses augmented reality technology to give pilots better-than-ever views of their surroundings.

Images displayed to the pilot via the special helmet are captured by cameras placed over the outside of the fighter plane. Three sensors located inside the cockpit work with a number of flashing LED lights located on the helmet to determine precisely where the pilot is looking, allowing the system to feed the appropriate images back to the pilot via the visor, in real time.

Explaining to the BBC how the helmet works, BAE’s Alan Jowett said, “If a pilot wears a Striker helmet – which is essentially a helmet with an integrated display – when he sees something on the ground he can just turn his head, put a symbol across on to the point of interest, press a button, and the system will calculate the object’s co-ordinates. The aircraft can then turn its sensors, cameras or weapons in that direction – so it allows a dialog directly between the plane and the pilot.”

The helmet-mounted displays (HMD) provide pilots with images unavailable on the traditional head-up displays (HUD), which only communicate limited data, such as altitude, speed and direction. HUDs also show targets, though for these the pilot needs to move the plane into position before a weapon can be fired.

HMDs made their debut in the 1990s, and are constantly being updated with the latest technology in an effort to keep one step ahead of the enemy.

According to the BBC, the new helmet is already being used by fighter pilots in a number of countries, but up to now only during training missions.

As you would expect, the Striker helmet was put through its paces before pilots started wearing it. The wind test, for example, looked at how the helmet deals with a sudden 600 knot wind blast after a pilot ejects from a plane. The video below gives more details on the new helmet, and takes a closer look at its rigorous testing procedures.