BAE unveils Striker II night vision helmet for fighter pilots

Striker II Image copyright BAE SYSTEMS
Image caption Night vision can help fighter pilots identify objects on the ground in the dark

A new smart helmet that allows fighter pilots to see in the dark via an integrated night vision camera has been unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow.

The Striker II, built by BAE Systems, features a visor that also acts as a high-definition display, which can project useful information to the user.

This includes data about targets and the co-ordinates of objects below.

The helmet also boasts head-tracking technology. It has been described as a "significant advance" by one expert.

Previous generations of fighter pilot helmets have been fitted with exterior night vision goggles, which added to the overall weight on a pilot's head.

Image copyright BAE SYSTEMS
Image caption The night vision camera does not protrude from the helmet

Analogue goggles can weigh as much as 0.5kg (1.1lb).

That does not sound like a lot, but they become nine times heavier when the jet accelerates at 9G.

Goggles also change a helmet's centre of gravity. This causes neck strain and restricts the pilot's movement when flying in the dark.

The Striker II, which builds on its predecessor's "x-ray" display, moves night vision inside the helmet by using an image from a digital camera that is relayed through the helmet mounted display on the visor.

Night vision is vital to pilots when they are flying in close formation, refuelling in mid-air, assisting troops on the ground, and even launching a ground attack.

Chris Colston, director of business development at BAE, says the first role of a helmet is still to keep pilots safe, but adds Striker II also provides "all of the capability all of the time".

"Fundamentally, it must still provide protection," he says.

"The pilot must still be able to eject from the aircraft at speeds of up to 600 knots, but we can then add technology to increase the situational awareness of the pilot"

The Striker II also has higher definition display than the earlier model, and head-tracking sensor technology.

This means that operational information can be accurately displayed to the pilot within his or her field of vision.

Image copyright BAE SYSTEMS
Image caption Pilot Mark Bowman says the Striker II gives fliers a "combat advantage"

The sensors also remove any latency when the pilot moves their head, seamlessly overlaying the view in front of them.

Justin Bronk, research analyst in military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) agreed that the helmet's night vision capabilities were a "very significant advance".

He added that more accurate target tracking also removed some of the limitations of previous fighter helmets.

In addition, Mr Bronk cites the higher-definition display as a "crucial" advance.

Previously pilots were faced with a screen resolution that was inferior to what they call "mark one eyeball" - the human eye.

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