Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

The Effect of Human Factors on the Helmet-Mounted Display

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

The Effect of Human Factors on the Helmet-Mounted Display

Article excerpt

Conflicts, no doubt, will be carried on in the future in the air, on the surface of the earth and water, and under the earth and water.

-Gen William "Billy" Mitchell

IN WORLD WAR I, the mounting of machine guns on airplanes marked the official beginning of the evolution of pilot-centered weapons employment. The technological advancement of combat aircraft and pilot-to-vehicle interface has enjoyed steady growth throughout the history of these aircraft. Following the innovation of the mounted machine gun, the development of both airborne radar and the infrared search-and-track system allowed fighter pilots to cue their weapons beyond the bore line of the airplane.

In most fighter aircraft, the field of view of these two cueing systems is approximately plus or minus 60 degrees off the aircraft's bore line. Although both systems are very important to one's ability to use weapons beyond visual range, the employment of heat-seeking missiles and modern machine guns still requires the pilot to point the nose of the fighter jet at the target. Consequently, fighters can find themselves engaged in long-turning fights, thus becoming vulnerable to both the aircraft with which they are engaged as well as other enemy aircraft in the area-a deadly scenario.

Introduction of the head-up display (HUD) marked the first step toward allowing pilots to cue their missiles or guns with an out-of-the-cockpit aiming device. A giant leap forward in terms of pilot-to-aircraft interface, the HUD displayed not only accurate weapons-aiming symbols, but also relevant flight data such as airspeed, altitude, and heading (fig. 1). For the first time, pilots could view such information without looking back inside the cockpit.

Currently, the development of high off-boresight weapons is driving the latest work in pilot-centered weapons employment. Many foreign air forces already have this capability, and a number of others are acquiring it. Dean F. Kocian of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate addresses the evolution of high off-boresight weapons and their dramatic impact on fighter aircraft:

Since the mounting of machine guns on airplanes in World War I, pilots have pointed the nose of their aircraft in the direction of the target. The dynamics of airborne combat required pilots to outmaneuver each other. Superior aircraft speed and agility were the keys to a successful engagement; however, that scenario has changed. . . .

This scenario represents a total paradigm shift in the way air-to-air combat is fought. The sighting reference for cueing a weapon is no longer the nose of the aircraft, but rather the pilot's helmet. As long as the target is within visual range and the pilot can view the target through the display in the helmet visor, the relative position of the aircraft to the enemy is not critical, but tactical implications are profound.1

In order to cue high off-boresight weapons to the target in a visual dogfight, pilots must have a helmet-mounted aiming device, which itself represents a human-factors breakthrough. Since the beginning of aerial combat, air forces around the world have run a technological race aimed at gaining superiority through increased propulsion and maneuverability of fighter aircraft. But these new levels of performance can take a toll on humans. For example, pilots subjected to high-G forces risk loss of consciousness and extended incapacitation; however, the helmet-mounted target cue and high off-boresight weapons enable the missile, capable of more than 50 Gs, to execute the high-G turn instead of the pilot.

Development of the Helmet-Mounted Display

The United States Air Force has worked on a helmet-mounted display for fighter aircraft for roughly 30 years. The proliferation of various types of high off-boresight weapons by enemy countries lends a sense of urgency to fielding this capability as soon as possible. Indeed, the fact that the Air Force is not holding on to the leading edge of this technology places our combat capability in the visual environment at risk. …

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