Electronic Weapons: Virtual Reality For Fighter Pilots


May 12, 2016: The Israeli firm (Elbit) that pioneered the use of helmet-mounted display system for military pilots has come out with a much improved version specifically for helicopter pilots who work at night a lot. The new helmet-mounted display system is called BrightNite and uses a multidirectional FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Radar) to see clearly at night and provide display data for helmet visors.

FLIR has been around since the 1980s, and as the heat (infrared) sensing technology became more powerful, it was possible to spot and identify targets at longer ranges. This was accomplished through the development of more sensitive heat sensors, and more powerful computer hardware and software for putting the images together. BrightNite is light enough for use on smaller helicopters. BrightNite, like earlier versions of this concept, sends visual data to the pilots “smart helmet” visor display. Pilots have described BrightNite as remarkable and a breakthrough. BrightNite images are accurate and fast enough (getting from the sensors, through the rendering software to the visor) to enable pilots to operate more confidently and precisely at night. BrightNite also expanded the field of view to 220 by 90 degrees. The earlier Elbit JedEye was only 80 by 40 degrees. That itself was a major jump from earlier efforts that only provided a smaller circular field of view. To get an idea of what BrightNite images are for pilots think “virtual reality” (VR) for pilots as both the smart helmets and VR advanced because of the same improvements in computing power and software design.

The BrightNite praise also came from pilots who had used Elbits first (2008) effort in this area called JedEyes. This introduced higher resolution (2250x1200 pixels) and wider field of view (up to 70 degrees) for the helmet visor. JedEyes has lots of other bells and whistles, like picture-in-picture (fixed, pop-up, or space stabilized) and 3-D graphics. JedEyes is also lighter and easier to wear (for long periods) than earlier "smart helmets." BrightNite took advantage of advances in computer power and software design as well as user response to JedEyes to make a system that performed better and, most importantly, addressed complaints users had about JedEyes. Thus BrightNite had essential terrain shown in a 3-D display with an overlay of mission specific data.

Pilot helmets have been getting much smarter continuously since the late 1990s. The U.S. JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems), has been adopted by thousands of U.S. Air Force and Navy F-16, F-18 and F-15 pilots. A similar system will be used by F-22 and F-35 pilots.

JHMCS, like JedEyes, allows a pilot to see displayed on his visor, critical flight and navigation information. Sort of like a see-through computer monitor or Head Up Display. Most importantly, the pilot can turn his head towards a target, get an enemy aircraft into the crosshairs displayed on the visor, and fire a missile that will promptly go after target the pilot was looking at. There is an additional advantage in letting the pilot look around more often without having to look down at cockpit displays, or straight ahead at a HUD (Head Up Display.) This kind of freedom gives an experienced pilot an extra edge in finding enemy aircraft or targets, and maneuvering to get into a better position for attacks. JHMCS is also useful for air-to-ground attacks, which JedEyes specializes in and BrightNite improves on.

Systems like JHMCS have been around since the 1990s, but JHMCS was noticeably lighter and easier to wear. Weight was a major problem in the past). JHMCS was also easier to use and more reliable. JedEyes took these features still farther as did BrightNite. The Israelis firm Elbit took the lead in developing this technology, and made many technical breakthroughs with their earlier DASH (Display and Sight Helmet) system. Elbit teamed up with American firms to develop and market JHMCS, which is largely an improved DASH system.


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