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

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Benjamin Bishop, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron director of operations, conducts pre-flight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 2, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron will design the tactics for the F-35A. The squadron will also determine how to integrate the F-35A with other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

“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


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. “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.

  2. 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”)

  3. 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?

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

  5. 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…

    • …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

      • 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.

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