EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Developmental flight tests are underway for the Air Force’s new Next Generation Fixed Wing Helmet here.
Engineers with the 46th Test Squadron and the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron oversee the helmet’s testing. Approximately five F-22A Raptor pilots from the 301st Fighter Squadron, a Reserve unit with the 43rd Fighter Squadron here, fly with the new lighter, cooler and more readily equipped helmet.
The NGFWH program goal is to provide pilots a more comfortable, stable, and balanced platform to accommodate helmet-mounted devices usage without imposing neck strain and discomfort to the user.
“It is common knowledge fighter pilots have long term neck and back issues,” said Maj. Brett Gedman, from the 301st Fighter Squadron. “Therefore, having a lightweight helmet, designed with the operator in mind, will have positive long-term impacts on the health of our fighter pilots during and after service.”
This series of tests marks the second round of developmental tests with the LIFT-manufactured helmet since it was awarded the contract in 2022. The NGFWH is set to replace the more than 40-year-old current model, known as HGU-55, used by all Air Force aircrew except F-35 flyers.
After each flight, the pilots report any feedback they have about wearability, visibility, communication, etc. The engineers compile that data to provide to the manufacturers. So far, outside of minor tweaks, the feedback is positive.
“The design of the helmet allows for unparalleled visibility, mobility, and comfort in the cockpit,” “The increased visibility combined with the mobility it provides made it a massive improvement over what I am used to flying with. It is clear this has been a generational leap in technology that the fighter pilot deserves, which is long overdue.”
Gedman said those factors are critical when operating in a high-G within visual range environment.
“With near peer threats narrowing the gap daily, it is critical the fighter pilots have every tactical advantage possible,” said Gedman. “Details matter, and it is coming down to the smallest details including the gear we wear.”
Along with Air Force aircrew, the new helmet also has a great effect on Aircrew Flight Equipment technicians. They are responsible for preparing, equipping, and maintaining the helmets for the aircrew.
Many flight advancements are now standard on the new helmet such as like night-vision goggle mounts and an adjustable occipital basket. With the legacy helmet, HGU-55, these items are added manually, adjusted, and fitted to the aircrew and take hours to prepare. To add a NVG mount to the legacy helmet, an AFE Airmen uses power tools to drill into the helmet to secure the bracket.
“From a pre-flight and build up standpoint, the new helmet is much better,” said Airman 1st Class Matthew Crouse, a 325th Operations Support Squadron AFE technician responsible NGFWH maintenance during the testing here. “It makes our job much easier in the long run, but because its so easy to adjust, we can make corrections if they are needed.”
When the Raptor squadrons leave Eglin soon for Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, the test engineers will follow for a new round testing with new pilots. Eventually, the tests will spread out to other aircraft and aircrew. The next aircraft type scheduled to test the helmets will be the HC-130J and B-1B Lancer.
By Samuel King Jr.
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