New Helmet Mounted Sight for Z-10 “Fierce Thunderbolt” Has Star Wars Vibe.
China’s impressive new CAIC (Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation) Z-10 gunship helicopter has attracted little western media attention since its first flight in 2003 and then its introduction to service in 2012. But, some interesting new photos of a helmet thought to be integrated with the Z-10 systems are getting western attention.
Designed in cooperation with the well-known Russian Kamov helicopter design company, the Z-10 is a potent, low-cost, relatively high performance attack helicopter with a published cost of slightly more than half that of the U.S. AH-64 Apache. Most sources suggest about 120 of the Z-10 “Fierce Thunderbolt” attack helicopters have been produced so far, with China continuing to display the aircraft as possible positioning for the export market.
Some interesting photos of a new helmet for the Z-10 crew appeared recently via the Modern Chinese Weapons page on Facebook. The page is administered by noted subject matter expert and author Andreas Rupprecht. Rupprecht has written the most authoritative reference books on Chinese military aviation available, published by Harpia Publishing.
Rupprecht shared four new photos of a helmet attributed to Z-10 Fierce Thunderbolt gunship crews. While we don’t know too much about the specifics of the helmet yet, the most remarkable conspicuous features of it appear to be its bulk and its unusual appearance. When we asked Rupprecht via his Facebook page for a photo of an aircrew member wearing the new helmet, he kindly provided the image you see here.
We copied Mr. Stefano D’Urso, an analyst and author for TheAviationist.com, on the photos provided by Rupprecht and asked D’Urso what he thought the various sensors and optics might be on the helmet. D’Urso told us:
“Under the visor it seems to have two lenses like the ones found on the (AH-64) Apache’s IHADSS (Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System), with the difference being that the tubes are mounted on the upper side of the helmet, while the IHADSS’s tube is mounted on the lower right side. The two external optics could be some sort of NVG (Night Vision Goggle)”.
What we may be seeing in the new helmet photos is a helmet developed for the latest “Z-10ME” variant of the Z-10 attack helicopter. The Z-10ME, with the “ME” suffix presumably standing for “Military Export”, is specifically intended for sale outside China in regions like Africa and the Middle East.
Chinese military subject matter expert and television commentator, Song Zhongping, was quoted on the ChinaMil.com.cn website as saying, “Many countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and South America are in need of medium attack helicopters cheaper than the US-made AH-64 Apache but with sufficient firepower.” The new Z-10ME could be that aircraft.
One concern with a helmet that has a large number of sensors and optics on it is weight, especially in a combat aircraft subjected to heavy “G” loads when maneuvering.
While advanced helmets like the one used by F-35 Joint Strike Fighter crews have a high degree of integration with the aircraft’s sensors and controls built into them, those helmets can cost over $400,000 USD each. Part of the cost for the helmets is the expense of the ultra-lightweight, hand-made reinforced carbon fiber composite.
View this post on Instagram
Up close and personal with the F-35’s HMDS, world most advanced, expensive (and difficult to handle…😂) helmet. I took this in the studio before the live TV coverage of the Punta Marina airshow. #theaviationist #f35 #hmds #flighthelmet . . . . 👉 You are free to repost but you have to add this credit: “Follow @theaviationist” 👈 #Aviation #JetNoise #InstaPlane #MegaPlane #Flying #aviationgeek #AvGeek #AvPorn #fighterpilot #aviationlovers #aviationphotography #aviationphoto #aviationdaily #instaplane #InstaAviation #pilots #planes #planespotting #militaryaviation #militaryaircraft #pilotslife #aircraft #airplane #aviation4u #instagramaviation
China is famous for their carbon fiber fabrication. A significant amount of worldwide carbon fiber production originates in China for both consumer markets like bicycles, tennis rackets and other recreational products to industrial applications like aircraft.
Because the new helmet in these photos is painted grey, it is impossible to tell from these photos what it is made out of, but lightweight carbon fiber is a possibility.
Hopefully soon we’ll know more of the specifics about China’s new integrated helmet for use with the Z-10 Fierce Thunderbolt. Until then, these photos suggest the helmet may expand the capability of this interesting, low-cost alternative to western attack helicopters.