Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Looks Now Kill In Kuwait

Kuwait has ordered 43 JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System). These cost $1.2 million each, which includes additional equipment to be installed in the cockpit, training and technical support. The actual helmet costs less than $100,000, but contractor personnel have to be brought in to maintain the helmets and make simple repairs. This use of foreign personnel is common in the Gulf Arab nations, where the locals prefer to bring in outsiders to run the economy, as well as many support jobs in the military and government. This is expensive, creates a high unemployment rate among the natives. But that's what the locals prefer, and as long as the oil flows that's how it will be.

The JHMCS allows a pilot to see critical flight and navigation information displayed on his visor. Sort of like a see-through computer monitor or Head Up Display. Most importantly, the pilot can turn their 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.

Systems like JHMCS have been around for over a decade, but JHMCS is lighter and easier to wear (weight was a major problem in the past), easier to use and more reliable (if you don't bump into the canopy). 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.

One aspect of the JHMCS will have to be handled by the Kuwaiti pilots themselves; the weight of the helmet. Five years ago the U.S. Air Force introduced a new neck muscle exercise machine in air force gyms frequented by fighter pilots. This was because the new helmets weighed 2 kg (4.3 pounds), which was about fifty percent more than a plain old helmet. That extra weight may not seem like much, but when making a tight turn, the gravitational pull (or "Gs") makes the helmet feel like it weighs 17.3 kg (38 pounds). You need strong neck muscles to deal with that. For decades now, fighter pilots have had to spend a lot of time building upper body strength in the gym, in order to be able to handle the G forces. Otherwise, pilots can get groggy, or even pass out in flight, as well as land with strained muscles. All this gym time is one reason fighter pilots are such chick magnets.

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