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Why Does Each US Air Force Pilot Helmet Cost $400,000?

Why Does Each US Air Force Pilot Helmet Cost $400,000?


Fighter pilot helmets- long gone are the days
when ace pilots took to the skies with just a pair of goggles and a leather helmet to
protect from the cold. Nowadays fighter pilots wear helmets that
give them nearly god-like powers of perception from their perches high above the clouds-
but what kind of technology is a fighter pilot’s helmet packing, and is it really worth the
$400,000 price tag revealed for the F-35’s helmet? Hello and welcome to another episode of The
Infographics Show- today we’re taking a look at what’s inside a fighter pilot’s helmet. At a 2015 press briefing, Air Force Chief
of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III remarked: “The hemet is much more than a helmet, the
helmet is a workspace. It’s an interpretation of the battle space. It’s situational awareness. Calling this thing a helmet is really… we’ve
got to come up with a new word.” It’s true that for a fighter pilot modern
helmets are indispensable to battlefield success. Helmets don’t just protect the head from accidentally
slamming into the cockpit during high speed maneuvers, modern helmets provide a host of
targeting data and sensors that help keep the pilot in complete awareness of his part
of the sky. But what exactly are these high-tech cranium
holsters really packing? An F-35 pilot’s helmet gives its wearer X-ray
vision, giving him or her access to six cameras embedded into the skin of the airplane at
the front, rear, and below the airplane. As the pilot turns their head, the feed is
stitched together instantly to allow the pilot to see straight through the aircraft below
them. Amazing technology we’re sure, but probably
a little nerve wracking the first time you’re using it since it must feel like you’re flying
through the air in nothing at all! Though some detractors have stated that they
could get the same picture by simply banking their planes and looking out the cockpit windows,
it’s important to note that with a stealth aircraft changing your airplane’s orientation
versus incoming radar waves might actually create a larger return and give you away. Also the feed is overlaid with important flight
path information and pop ups giving info on ground targets below or ahead. It’s sort of like flying Wonder Woman’s invisible
plane- but many times deadlier. The helmet gives its wearer this ultimate
x-ray vision by tracking the pilot’s head relative to a magnetic field transmitted from
the seat. As the pilot’s head moves, the helmet detects
a change in that field and senses new position and orientation, instantly updating the video
feeds. While early versions of this system caused
some lag, new iterations are lag free and pilots seem to be loving it. Helmets also provide vital targeting data
to a pilot. Whereas pilots used to rely on heads up displays
that were fixed at the front of the cockpit, new helmets project that data directly onto
the helmet itself so a pilot can be looking anywhere and still have access to vital targeting
data. Helmets patch in forward looking infrared
cameras and infrared search and track radar, providing info on target identity and distance,
and if required, even advises on which weapon currently equipped to use. This allows a pilot to track, target, and
engage an enemy target while scanning his rear- or ‘six’- to make sure he or she isn’t
being targeted themselves- a huge jump in capabilities from the days when pilots were
locked staring straight ahead to figure out how to engage an enemy. Flight helmets such as the F-35’s also offers
night vision built directly into the helmet itself, which replaces the traditional system
of trying to don night vision goggles while flying a plane. By switching between regular vision, night
vision, and even thermal tracking, there’s nowhere to hide from an F-35 pilot. Modern flight helmets also offer picture-in-picture
capabilities, letting fighter pilots create small pop-up windows which display in real
time video feed from another fighter in range, or perhaps from a friendly UAV secretly loitering
over an enemy. With a target represented by a symbol in the
fighter pilot’s helmet, all they have to do is physically look at that target symbol and
a miniature video feed of the target will then pop up for them, helping pilots decide
whether to engage their target or not. But vision is only part of what a helmet does. With reinforced kevlar designs, modern flight
helmets are all but bulletproof and help protect a pilot’s head during extreme maneuvers or
emergency ejections. To protect their hearing and help them focus
better, they also offer active noise reduction that silences ambient din. They also use spatial audio technology to
increase a pilot’s situational awareness- if for instance a pilot is targeted from the
left, an audio ping from that earpiece will let them know. All that technology doesn’t come cheap- as
mentioned an F-35 helmet costs approximately $400,000 a piece, and includes a lengthy fitting
process that makes each helmet specifically built for individual pilots. A 3d scan of the pilot’s head is entered into
a database, from which technicians design software that drives milling machines to cut
the foam liner by laser. A pilot then has their eyes measured with
a pupilometer to align the optics package to within just two millimeters of the center
of each pupil- this ensures that the images projected converge onto the pilot’s natural
field of view, which in turn helps reduce eye strain and fatigue. Pilots then must return for a final fitting
of the liner so that the visor and its display feeds are adjusted to ensure only a single
fused image appears- otherwise a pilot may have double or triple vision from misaligned
video feeds. Technicians then spend two days to shape the
helmet liner to each individual pilot’s noggin to ensure the optical sensors are perfectly
aligned with the pilot’s pupils. These careful measurements also ensure that
the helmet rests on the pilot’s head in such a way that its center of gravity is perfectly
aligned with the pilot’s spine in order to prevent neck injuries during ejections or
high speed maneuvers. All these careful and precise measurements
basically make helmets unuseable except by the specific pilot they were developed for,
meaning that investing in an F-35 is not just an investment in the aircraft itself, but
in its pilot too. But with as cool a job as piloting the world’s
most advanced aircraft, we’re sure there’s no threat of any of these pilots getting bored
and quitting anytime soon. Are these $400,000 helmets really worth the
price tag, or are they just another money sink in the world’s most expensive weapons
program? What other military tech would you like explained? Let us know in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video
Worst Punishments In The History of Mankind. Thanks for watching, and as always, please
don’t forget to like, share and subscribe.


Reader Comments

  1. That's one cool piece of equipment.
    Is it worth the price? Would you like to have any of its technology used in every day life?

  2. I had the chance to wear one of these with a small flight simulator at a robotics convention. Coolest helmet I have ever worn!

  3. Because there is only one supplier. Why a $5.00 spanner in the air force cost $200.00. OK I give up no really if there was only one hotel in new York how much would a room cost.

  4. I wonder the role of the pilot. Is he a pilot or a gamer?! And something else. I don't want to reduce the F35's worth, but the helmet is regulated for the inaccuracy of the machine gun of the plane? Because, even now, the machine gun of the plane targets everything else except the…target!!

  5. “Each Air Force pilot helmet” does NOT cost $400k…. the Air Force F-35A (and all the other variants of the F-35) helmet costs $400k.

  6. Honestly, it seems totally worth it, all that utility and the protection the helmet provides is probably worth every penny in the eyes of the pilots who use them

  7. F**k the helmet – the F35 itself costs about $250 million a piece. . .so whats in one of those?. . .suspended diamonds and gold bars?

  8. Mmm since the last video I watched from this channel was riddled with some inaccuracies im gonna take this video with a fist full of salt.

  9. 400000 for a piece….thats barbaric overkill…they could have achieved same results with 5 morties and a jumper cable….😂

  10. It is worth about half the price. These are made through a government contract and as always they gouge the government by overpricing, like they do with everything else like toilet seats, ammo and so on. Fantastic piece of tech though.

  11. 2:49: when mig and F/a 18 hornet had a baby: f/a18 says its mig with american pilot..? (name isnt russian from my consent)

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