F-35 pilot talking about the 400K USD flight helmet: “It’s cool but I don’t really use it that often”

Jul 13 2015 - 20 Comments

“but I’m an old school pilot…”

Few months ago we published the interesting interview Maj. John Wilson, an F-35 pilot with 61th Fighter Squadron, gave to Christian Sundsdal of the Danish website focusing on military topics Krigeren, at Luke Air Force Base.

Answering one of the questions, Maj. Wilson clearly admitted that an A-10 Thunderbolt II will always be better in CAS than the F-35 because it was designed to perform that kind of mission.

Recently, Sundsdal has published the second part of the interview, that focused on the 400k USD Helmet Mounted Display System, that combines FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System) imaging, night vision and a virtual HUD (Head Up Display).

The HMDS provides the pilot a sort-of X-ray vision imagery: he can see through any surface, with the HUD symbology he needs to fly the plane and cue weapons that follow his head and get projected onto the visor through the line of sight imagery.

As already explained in a previous article, the HMDS has suffered issues though: jitter and latency (solved) along with problems with turbulence and buffeting, that can cause display issues (particularly dangerous when the JSF is maneuvering to evade an enemy missile shot), decreased night-vision acuity, and information sharing when 3 or 4 aircraft fly together.

Still, Wilson is probably not worried by such troubles since he doesn’t use the helmet very much:

“It’s cool, but I don’t use it that often” he says.

The reason is pretty simple: “If I really wanna see what’s underneath me, I’ll just look outside, I just roll up….because it doesn’t take much longer for me to just bank the airplane.”

Interesting point of view.

According to the F-35 pilot, he would just “look” as he would see in much higher clarity with his own eyes. Pilots consider it an “added benefit” and use it sometimes for night flying but that seems to be the only time when the costly HMDS is used (at least by Wilson and his 61th FS colleagues).

Still, Wilson admits he’s an old school pilot, so there may be pilots who use it more often.

“What about if you need to look behind you?” asks one of the interviewers.

Wilson is quite sure: “I’ll use my eyes” because “I need to see things with my own eyes” to judge aspect, distance closure, and other details that you can’t get using a 2D camera.

The F-16, with no camera, has a really good visibility: “It’s just a kind of apple to orange comparison,” Wilson explains, highlighting the fact that the F-35 and the F-16 or F-22 were designed for different roles.

“If you are flying correctly and the jet is doing what it is supposed to do, [enemy] guys should die well before they get behind you” Wilson comments, suggesting, once again, that the JSF’s survivability in air-to-air combat (even against some of the aircraft it is supposed to replace) is based on its BVR (Beyond Visual Range), stealth and SA (Situational Awareness) capabilities, rather than in its agility (initially touted by LM test pilots…).

Ok now it’s time to watch the interview by yourself:

Pilot talks about the helmet and visuality within the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II from Krigeren.dk on Vimeo.

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force


  • Point45_ACP

    Seems that you only need a helmet like that if you ever got airborne. Most F-35 pilots need a crash helmet that’s 100% fireproof (like formula one drivers) to protect them when the engine catches on fire before they ever get airborne.

    • Cocidius

      “to protect them when the engine catches on fire before they ever get airborne.”

      Hilarious! You had me spewing coffee this morning!

    • Callsign Vega

      Ya, because the F-35 is the only aircraft program in the world to ever had a fire.. right?

  • cmoreride

    400,000 $
    and who thinks the US Government doesn’t create jobs

  • C_Low

    “The reason is pretty simple: “If I really wanna see what’s underneath me, I’ll just look outside, I just roll up….because it doesn’t take much longer for me to just bank the airplane.””

    Not necessarily in a stealth aircraft during penetration I am pretty sure unless tech has really moved the ball that the aircraft pretty much flies on a computer rail so as not to give the wrong angle face to any possible threat radars. Most people think of stealth as some kind of startrek cloak but it is really more kin to good camo. In the right position, right range, right background camo can make you disappear but but if you just flash a little tail one minor mistake and you are easily made by the keen eye.

    • CK

      I think Marines vertically landing on an Amphib would disagree with his statement.

      • C_Low

        Vertically landing? you are not rolling to see the ground. Actually the headset in that case would probably be a extra bonus being able to see what you never used to be able to see in in the Harrier. Of course that maybe considering the level of distortion viewing the world through a camera image rather than a mark1 eyeball.

    • in_awe

      Don’t forget the rumors that the F117 downed in Bosnia was tracked by watching the moving “dead space” in cell tower transmissions. Where signals were absorbed, you’ll find radio absorbent materials aka stealth aircraft..

  • mzungu

    Let’s hope that the enemy approach you from the front. :D

  • Trashman1

    i don’t think the rift allows you to see through an airplane.

  • InvaderNat

    “Electronically backwards” – you need to go home and reevaluate your thinking. The Russians build what needs to be built and if it doesn’t work they can-it. The Americans overbuild things to the point off uselessness, and rather than admit it won’t work, they keep building it because it’s ‘too big to fail’.

    This whole F-35 is basically an iPhone: All fluff and hype, but only about the same real content as it’s competitors.

  • Max Glazer

    Electronically backward ruskies? Lets see.
    First fighter-borne ESA radar (Zaslon)
    Worlds most powerful ESA radar currently in use (N-035 Irbis)
    Networking between fighters long before USA (TKS-2 system)
    Networking ground forces before NATO started to (Manyovr system)
    First to mass-produce and mass-field the HMS (Shhel)
    First to make a fly-by-wire system for an aircraft (Sukhoi T-4 “Sotka”)

  • Saint

    When the f35 was defeated in war games by an inferior jet, the excuse was that the wargames version of the f35 wasn’t using all the cool software like the helmet. And now we hear that the helmet really isn’t that useful.

    So how useful is the f35?

  • PlayLoud

    Misleading headline. He uses the helmet, and it’s display properties. He doesn’t much care for the “x-ray vision” function.

  • Illegal Hater – America lover.

    I live out by Luke Air Force base, I see the F-35 flying over my house almost every day. Arizona also has the biggest gunnery range in the US, not once have I noticed weapons of any kind on any F-35 meaning the helmets don’t mean a dam when the F-35 is just an expensive trainer because it can’t fight, it can’t drop any ordinance and it can’t even fire its gun…so the helmet is a waste of time and money that can be stolen by the illegals that have overrun the Phoenix area and the US in general…yup I said that…

    • patrick

      …you are aware that the F-22 and F-35 do not carry weapons outside of their internal bays …right?

      That any weapon strapped to a pylon in the wing would completely defeat the idea of stealth

      • bobcat4424

        Yep, and weapons in enclosed bays must open those bays and lose all stealth to use the ordnance. After we lost an F-117 that way, commanders are hesitant to use the aircraft against any target with a fixed axis of attack, such as an airfield. It is too easy to station a shoulder-fired SAM at each end of the runway and fire the instant the bay doors open.

  • ST0RM

    Just curious how he flies then, as I understand the aircraft does not have a traditional HUD. The HUD is projected onto the helmet visor.

  • Talk about the epitome of expensive boondoggles.