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When a HUD Won't Cut It, Pilots Turn To Helmet-Mounted

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Back in the old days, all the hep pilots were using heads-up displays to manage the increasing amount of information generated by their aircraft. Now, with sensor and navigation and network data flooding the cockpit like a fire hose, a HUD might not cut it.

That's why the latest thing for combat pilots is displays mounted directly on their helmets. You've read here before about how F-35 pilots' helmets are supposed to help them process the volumes of information from their Distributed Aperture System, but they aren't the only ones with that kind of gear. Eurofighter Typhoon pilots have a similar helmet, and Raytheon is helping develop one for F-16 Viper and A-10 Warthog drivers in the U.S. Air National Guard.

Raytheon chief engineer Todd Lovell explained that one simple but powerful advantage of his helmet-mounted system was that it could show information in color, rather than the standard HUD green. That means a helicopter can show its pilot a dangerous obstacle -- such as a radio antenna, or high-tension power lines -- in red, to make sure it pops out from everything else she might be seeing.

Pilots might not be the only ones to benefit. Company officials also talked about possibilities for other crew members that sounded like they came from science fiction: Let's say your helicopter was dashing in to pull out a team of special operators in close contact with the bad guys. If your door gunner were wearing a helmet display of his own, you could send him details about where to fire and, just as important, where not to fire, even if he couldn't quite see individuals on the ground himself. He could view a little red target box in his helmet, just like a fighter pilot, and line up the iron sights on his gun accordingly.

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