Helmet mounted display

Helmet mounted display
For non-aviation applications, see Head-mounted display
Helmet mounted display
The Integrated Helmet and Display Sight System (IHADSS)

A helmet mounted display (HMD) is a device used in some modern aircraft, especially combat aircraft. HMDs project information similar to that of head-up displays (HUD) on an aircrew’s visor or reticle, thereby allowing him to obtain situational awareness and/or cue weapons systems to the direction his head is pointing. Applications which allow cuing of weapon systems are referred to as Helmet Mounted Sight and Display (HMSD) or Helmet Mounted Sights (HMS).



Aviation HMD designs serve two basic purposes:

  • using the pilot's eye (actually head angle) as a pointing device to direct air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons seekers or other sensors (e.g., radar, FLIR) to a target merely by pointing his head at the target and actuating a switch via HOTAS controls. In close combat prior to HMDs, the pilot had to align the aircraft to shoot at a target. HMDs allow the pilot to simply point his head at a target, designate it to weapon and shoot.
  • displaying targeting and aircraft performance information (such as airspeed, altitude, target range, weapon seeker status, "g", etc.) to the pilot while "heads-up", eliminating the need to look inside the cockpit.
  • displaying sensor video for the purpose of: verification that the chosen sensor has been cued to the right target or location without requiring the pilot to look inside the cockpit, and viewing outside terrain using sensor video in degraded visual conditions.

HMD systems, combined with High Off-Boresight (HOBS) weapons, results in the ability for aircrew to attack and destroy nearly any target seen by the pilot. These systems allow targets to be designated with minimal aircraft maneuvering, minimizing the time spent in the threat environment, and allowing greater lethality, survivability, and pilot situational awareness.


The first aircraft with simple HMD devices appeared for experimental purpose in the mid seventies to aid in targeting heat seeking missiles. These rudimentary devices were better described as Helmet Mounted Sights. Mirage F1AZ of the SAAF [South African Air Force] used a locally developed helmet mounted sight. This enables the pilot to make bore attacks, without having to maneuver to the optimum firing position. South Africa subsequently emerged as one of the pioneers and leaders in helmet mounted sight technology. The SAAF was also the first Air Force to fly the helmet sight operationally. The US Navy's Visual Target Acquisition System (VTAS), made by Honeywell Corporation was a simple mechanical "ring and bead" style sight fitted to the front of the pilot's helmet that was flown in the 1974-78 ACEVAL/AIMVAL on U.S. F-14 and F-15 fighters

VTAS received praise for its effectiveness in targeting off-boresight missiles, but the U.S. did not pursue fielding it except for integration into late model Navy F-4 Phantoms equipped with the AIM-9 Sidewinder.[1] HMDs were also introduced in helicopters during this time.

The first operational jet fighters with HMD (Mirage F1AZ) were fielded by the South African Air Force. After the South African system had been proven in combat, playing a role in downing Soviet aircraft over Angola, the Soviets embarked on a crash program to counter the technology. As a result, the MiG-29 was fielded in 1985 with an HMD and a high off-boresight weapon (AA-11 Archer/R-73), giving them an advantage in close in maneuvering engagements.

Several nations responded with programs to counter the MiG-29/HMD/AA-11 (and later Su-27) combination once its effectiveness was known, principally through access to former East German MiG-29s that were operated by the unified German Air Force.

The first successful HMD outside South Africa and the Soviet Union was the Israeli Air Force Elbit DASH series, fielded in conjunction with the Python 4, in the early 1990s. American and European fighter HMDs lagged behind, not becoming widely used until the late 1990s and early 2000s. The US-UK-Germany responded initially with a combined ASRAAM effort. Technical difficulties led to the US abandoning ASRAAM, instead funding development of the AIM-9X and the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System in 1990.


While conceptually simple, implementation of aircraft HMDs is quite complex. There are many variables:[2]

  • precision - the angular error between the line-of-sight and the derived cue. The position of the helmet is what is used to point the missile, it thus must be calibrated and fit securely on the pilot's head. The line between the pilot's eye and the reticle on the visor is known as the line of sight (LOS) between the aircraft and the intended target. The user's eye must stay aligned with the sight – in other words, current HMDs cannot sense where the eye is looking, but can place a "pipper" between the eye and the target.
  • latency or slew rate - how much lag there is between the helmet and the cue.
  • field of regard - the angular range over which the sight can still produce a suitably accurate measurement.
  • weight and balance - total helmet weight and its center of gravity, which are particularly important under high "g" maneuvers. Weight is the largest problem faced by fighter aircraft HMD designers. This is much less a concern for helicopter applications, making elaborate helicopter HMDs common.
  • safety and cockpit compatibility, including ejection seat compatibility.
  • optical characteristics – calibration, sharpness, distant focus (or 'Collimation', a technique used to present the images at a distant focus, which improves the readability of images), monocular vs. binocular imagery, eye dominance, and binocular rivalry.
  • durability and ability to handle day to day wear and tear.
  • cost, including integration and training.
  • fit and interfacing the aviator's head to the aircraft – head anthropometry and facial anatomy make helmet fitting a crucial factor in the aviator's ability to interface with the aircraft systems. Misalignment or helmet shift can cause an inaccurate picture.

Head position sensing

HMD designs must sense the elevation, azimuth and tilt of the pilot's head relative to the airframe with sufficient precision even under high "g" and during rapid head movement. Two basic methods are used in current HMD technology - optical and electromagnetic.[2]

Optical tracking

Optical systems employ infrared emitters on the helmet (or cockpit) infrared detectors in the cockpit (or helmet), to measure the pilot's head position. The main limitations are restricted fields of regard and sensitivity to sunlight or other heat sources. The MiG-29/AA-11 Archer system uses this technology.[2] The Cobra HMD as used on both the Eurofighter Typhoon[3] and the JAS39 Gripen [4] both employ the optical helmet tracker developed by Denel Optronics (now part of Zeiss Optronics[5] ).

Electromagnetic tracking

Electromagnetic sensing designs use coils (in the helmet) placed in an alternating field (generated in the cockpit) to produce alternating electrical voltages based on the movement of the helmet in multiple axes. This technique requires precise magnetic mapping of the cockpit to account for ferrous and conductive materials in the seat, cockpit sills and canopy to reduce angular errors in the measurement.[6]


Older HMDs typically employ a compact CRT embedded in the helmet, and suitable optics to display symbology on to the pilot's visor or reticle, focused at infinity. Modern HMDs have dispensed with the CRT in favor of micro-displays such as Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) or Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) along with a LED illuminator to generate the displayed image. Advanced HMDs can also project FLIR or NVG imagery. A recent improvement is the capability to display color symbols and video.

Major systems

Systems are presented in rough chronological order of initial operating capability.

Integrated Helmet And Display Sight System (IHADSS)


In 1984, the U.S. Army fielded the AH-64 Apache and with it the Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System (IHADSS), a new helmet concept in which the role of the helmet was expanded to provided a visually coupled interface between the aviator and the aircraft. The Honeywell M142 IHADSS is fitted with a 40° by 30° field of view, video-with-symbology monocular display. IR emitters allow a slewable IR imaging sensor, mounted on the nose of the aircraft, to be slaved to the aviator’s head movements. The display also enables Nap-of-the-earth night navigation. IHADSS is also used on the Italian Agusta A129 Mangusta.[7]

ZSh-5 / Shchel-3UM

The Russian designed Shchel-3UM HMD design is fit to the ZSh-5 series helmet, and is used on the MiG-29 and Su-27 in conjunction with the AA-11 Archer. The HMD/Archer combination gave the MiG-29 and Su-27 a significantly improved close combat capability and quickly became the most widely deployed HMD in the world.[8][9]

Display And Sight Helmet (DASH)

The Elbit Systems DASH III was the first modern Western HMD to achieve operational service. Evolution of the DASH began during the mid 1980s, when the IAF issued a requirement for F-15 and F-16 aircraft. The first design entered production around 1986, and the current GEN III helmet entered production during the early to mid 1990s. The current production variant is deployed on IDF F-15, and F-16 aircraft. Additionally, it has been certified on the F/A-18 and F-5. The DASH III has been exported and integrated into various legacy aircraft, including the MiG-21.[10] It also forms the baseline technology for the US JHMCS.[11]

The DASH GEN III is a wholly embedded design, where the complete optical and position sensing coil package is built within the helmet (either USAF standard HGU-55/P or the Israeli standard HGU-22/P) using a spherical visor to provide a collimated image to the pilot. A quick-disconnect wire powers the display and carries video drive signals to the helmet's Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). DASH is closely integrated with the aircraft's weapon system, via a MIL-STD-1553B bus.

Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS)


After the U.S. withdrawal from ASRAAM, the U.S. pursued and fielded JHMCS in conjunction with the Raytheon AIM-9X, in November 2003 with the 12th and 19th Fighter Squadrons at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. The Navy conducted RDT&E on the F/A-18C as lead platform for JHMCS, but fielded it first on the F/A-18 Super Hornet E and F aircraft in 2003. The USAF is also integrating JHMCS into its F-15E and F-16 aircraft.

JHMCS is a derivative of the DASH III and the Kaiser Agile Eye HMDs, and was developed by Vision Systems International (VSI), a joint venture company formed by Rockwell Collins, Elbit and Kaiser Electronics (Kaiser is no longer affiliated with VSI; it is now equally owned by Rockwell Collins and Elbit's US subsidiary Elbit Systems of America). Boeing integrated the system into the F/A-18 and began low-rate initial production delivery in fiscal year 2002. JHMCS is employed in the F/A-18C/D/E/F, F-15C/D/E, and F-16 Block 40/50 with a design that is 95% common to all platforms.[12] This may also be integrated into the system of the F-22.

Unlike the DASH, which is integrated into the helmet itself, JHMCS assemblies attach to modified HGU-55/P, HGU-56/P or HGU-68/P helmets. JHMCS employs a newer, faster digital processing package, but retains the same type of electromagnetic position sensing as the DASH. The CRT package is more capable, but remains limited to monochrome presentation of calligraphic symbology. JHMCS provides support for raster scanned imagery to display FLIR/IRST pictures for night operations and provides collimated symbology and imagery to the pilot. The integration of the night-vision goggles with the JHMCS was a key requirement of the program.

When combined with the AIM-9X, an advanced short-range dogfight weapon that employs a Focal Plane Array seeker and a thrust vectoring tail control package, JHMCS allows effective target designation up to 80 degrees either side of the aircraft's nose.

Scorpion HMCS

Scorpion HMCS mounted on a HGU-55/P helmet with a clear visor

Gentex Corporation Introduced the Scorpion Helmet Mounted Cueing System to the military aviation market in 2008. Scorpion has the distinction of being the first color HMD introduced. It was developed for targeting pod, gimbaled sensor or high off-boresight missile cueing mission scenarios. Unlike most HMDs Scorpion was designed to be installed on standard issue HGU-55/P and HGU-68/P helmets and is fully compatible with standard issue U.S. Pilot Flight Equipment without special fitting. It is also fully compatible with the AN/AVS-9 Night Vision Goggles (NVG) and Panoramic Night Vision Goggles (PNVG).

Scorpion utilizes a novel optical system featuring a light-guide optical element (LOE) which provides a compact color collimated image to the pilot. This allows the display to be positioned between the pilot's eyes and NVGs. The display can be positioned as the pilot wishes. Sophisticated software correction accommodates the display position, providing an accurate image to the pilot. This feature, allows the Scorpion HMCS to be installed onto a pilot's existing helmet with no special fitting. A visor can be deployed in front of the display providing protection during ejection. The visor can be clear, glare, high contrast, gradient, or laser protective. An NVG mount can be installed in place of the visor during flight. Once installed, NVGs can be placed in front of the display, thus allowing the pilot to view both the display symbols as well as the NVG image simultaneously.

Scorpion is being installed on C-130W Gunships for target cueing and weapons employment. Scorpion won the Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting HMIT program in 2010 which will outfit US A-10C and F-16 Block 30 aircraft.

Aselsan AVCI

Aselsan of Turkey is working to develop a similar system to the French TopOwl Helmet, called the AVCI Helmet Integrated Cueing System. The system will also be utilized into the T-129 Turkish Attack Helicopter.[13]


The French thrust vectoring Matra MBDA MICA missile for its Rafale and late model Mirage 2000 fighters was accompanied by the Topsight HMD by Sextant Avionique. TopSight provides a 20 degree FoV for the pilot's right eye, and calligraphic symbology generated from target and aircraft parameters. Electromagnetic position sensing is employed. The Topsight helmet uses an integral embedded design, and its contoured shape is designed to provide the pilot with a wholly unobstructed field of view.

TopNight, a Topsight derivative, is designed specifically for adverse weather and night air to ground operations, employing more complex optics to project infrared imagery overlaid with symbology. The most recent version the Topsight has been designated TopOwl-F, and is qualified on the Rafale, Mirage-2000-5 Mk2, and Mig-29K.

Eurofighter Helmet Mounted Symbology System

The Eurofighter Typhoon utilizes the Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) developed by BAE Systems and Pilkington Optronics. It is capable of displaying both raster imagery and calligraphic symbology, with provisions for embedded NVGs. As with the DASH helmet, the system employs integrated position sensing to ensure that symbols representing outside-world entities move in line with the pilot's head movements.

Helmet Mounted Display System

Helmet-Mounted Display System for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter

Vision Systems International (VSI; the Elbit Systems/Rockwell Collins joint venture) along with Helmet Integrated Systems, Ltd. developed the Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. In addition to standard HMD capabilities offered by other systems, HMDS fully utilizes the advanced avionics architecture of the F-35 and provides the pilot video with imagery in day or night conditions. As a result, the F-35 is the first tactical fighter jet in 50 years to fly without a HUD.[14][15]

JedEyes TM

JedEyes TM is a new system recently introduced by Elbit Systems especially to meet Apache and other rotary wing platform requirements. The system is designed for day, night and brownout flight environments. JedEyes TM has a 70 x 40 degree FOV and 2250x1200 pixels resolution.


Sweden’s JAS 39 Gripen fighter utilizes the Cobra HMD, developed by BAE Systems, Denel Optronics of South Africa, and Saab. It has been exported to the South African Air Force.[16]

Future technology

  • VSI is developing the QuadEyeTM Night Vision Cueing & Display (NVCD) for the US Navy and US Air Force, and is also producing the DASH Generation IV HMD.
  • Eye tracking – Eye trackers measure the point of gaze relative to the direction of the head, allowing a computer to sense where the user is looking. These systems are not currently used in aircraft.

See also


  1. ^ "VTAS helmet". Best-of-flightgear.dk. http://www.best-of-flightgear.dk/vtas.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  2. ^ a b c Helmet Displays In Aviation - Contents[dead link]
  3. ^ "Denel Optronics Head-Tracker System for Eurofighter Typhoon". Defence Talk. 4 June 2007. http://www.defencetalk.com/denel-optronics-head-tracker-system-for-eurofighter-typhoon-12206/. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  4. ^ "FIRST GRIPEN FLIGHT WITH HELMET MOUNTED DISPLAY". Saab. http://www.saabgroup.com/en/about-saab/newsroom/press-releases--news/2001---2/first-gripen-flight-with-helmet-mounted-display/. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  5. ^ "Denel, Zeiss in optical partnership". 27 MArch 2007. http://www.southafrica.info/business/investing/denel-150307.htm. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  6. ^ Air Power Australia. "Helmet Mounted Sights and Displays". Ausairpower.net. http://www.ausairpower.net/hmd-technology.html. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  7. ^ "The Impact of the U.S. Army's AH-64 Helmet Mounted Display on Future Aviation Helmet Design". Stinet.dtic.mil. http://stinet.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA202984. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  8. ^ "Fact Sheets : Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29A : Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29A". Nationalmuseum.af.mil. 1977-10-06. http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=8672. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  9. ^ "Fighter Aircraft, MiG-29/1". Sci.fi. http://www.sci.fi/~fta/MiG-29.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  10. ^ "MiG-21 2000 Fighter Ground Attack Air Force Technology". Airforce-technology.com. 1995-05-24. http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/mig21/. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  11. ^ "Vision Systems International - DASH". Vsi-hmcs.com. http://www.vsi-hmcs.com/dash.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  12. ^ "Vision Systems International - JHMCS". Vsi-hmcs.com. http://www.vsi-hmcs.com/jhmcs.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  13. ^ "Monch Yayıncılık - AVCI". Monch.com.tr. http://www.monch.com.tr/index.php?id=114&option=com_content&task=view. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  14. ^ (ref: http://www.rockwellcollins.com/news/page8813.html)
  15. ^ F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program. "> F-35 > Technology". JSF.mil. http://www.jsf.mil/f35/f35_technology.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  16. ^ Saab & BAE Systems sign agreement for new integrated Helmet Mounted Display System for Gripen[1]
  17. ^ "Virtual Retinal Display (VRD) Technology." Virtual Retinal Display Technology. Naval Postgraduate School. 13 February 2007 [2].
  18. ^ Lake, Matt. "How It Works: Retinal Displays Add a Second Data Layer." New York Times 26 April 2001. 13 February 2006 [3]. (registration required)


  • Head Mounted Displays: Designing for the user; Melzer and Moffitt; McGraw Hill, 1997

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