The Path-Breaking Apache Helicopter Helmet Is Getting A Major Upgrade

Gear
Photo via DoD

Some of the most talented pilots in the U.S. armed forces are getting a major helmet upgrade. Contracting firm Defense Corporate on July 24 announced on Soldier System a $13 million contract with the Army to produce a new Apache Aviator Integrated Helmet (AAIH), a piece of hardware critical to the legendary AH-64 Apache helicopter.


Gentex Corporation's new Apache Aviator Integrated Helmet (AAIH)Photo via Gentex Corporation

The face-enveloping new helmet — which appears to be built on the HGU-56/P rotary wing helmet system that Gentex initially designed support the Army Air Soldier Program, and gives me the frickin’ creeps — will offer “improved safety features and comfort that provides situational awareness and targeting information,” according to the company. The new helmet also includes updates meant to seamlessly integrate with the next-generation AH-64E that Boeing will sell to 15 countries over the coming years.

Gentex Corporation's new Apache Aviator Integrated Helmet (AAIH)Photo via Gentex Corporation

This is no insignificant upgrade, even if it sounds like one. The Apache’s heads-up display was the first used by the Department of Defense in 1985, beginning with an Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System that fed targeting information and infrared imaging directly into a helmet-mounted screen.

According to a 1988 Army Aeromedical Research Lab report on the new system, the Pentagon was most impressed by the capability for “an IR imaging sensor, mounted on the nose of the aircraft, to be slaved to the aviators head movements” — a capability quickly applied to the attack helo’s 30mm automatic M230 chain gun.

But annihilating enemies with a head-responsive chain gun is far from the helmet’s most important function. Of all the aircraft in the Pentagon’s inventory, the Apache may be among the most difficult to fly. In his 2009 book Apache: Inside the Cockpit of the World’s Most Deadly Fighting Machine, former British Army Air Corps pilot Ed Macy described the mental and physical gymnastics required to squeeze every ounce of deadly power out of the attack helo, via Air & Space/Smithsonian:

Flying an Apache almost always meant both hands and feet doing four different things at once. Even our eyes had to learn how to work independently of each other. A monocle sat permanently over our right iris. A dozen different instrument readings from around the cockpit were projected into it. At the flick of a button, a range of other images could also be superimposed underneath the green glow of the instrument symbology, replicating the TADS’ or PNVS’ camera images and the Longbow Radars’ targets.

The monocle left the pilot’s left eye free to look outside the cockpit, saving him the few seconds that it took to look down at the instruments and then up again…. New pilots suffered terrible headaches as the left and right eye competed for dominance. They started within minutes, long before take-off…. As the eyes adjusted over the following weeks and months the headaches took longer to set in. It was a year before mine disappeared altogether…. I once filmed my face during a sortie with a video camera as an experiment. My eyes whirled independently of each other throughout, like a man possessed.

Gentex better be up to the task: The company’s new deal follows a $12.7 million, two-year deal Army contract with Elbit Systems to supply the AAIH. And with the Army’s Apache Program Management Office currently collaborating with Raytheon on a rotary aircraft laser system, Gentex should start planning on a helmet capable of supporting the laser headbanging that is the future of modern Apache warfare.

WATCH NEXT:

The scene of Monday's plane crash in North Carolina. (North Carolina Department of Transportation/Susan Kinner)

A military plane crashed in North Carolina on Monday, according to the Marine Corps.

The pilot safely ejected before the crash in Craven County, and no deaths have been reported, according to a Facebook post from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Read More Show Less

A U.S. Army National Guardsman convicted of murder in the 2010 fatal shooting of an Afghan man was released Monday morning from a military prison at Fort Leavenworth.

As a white van carried Sgt. Derrick Miller to a parking lot at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the guardsman's mother, Renee Myers, held an American flag and excitedly said: "Ah, my baby."

"Hey, mom," Miller said as he stepped out of the van after eight years in military prison. He rubbed her back as the two embraced.

Miller's release comes as President Donald Trump is said to be considering pardons for several military members accused or convicted of war crimes, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Read More Show Less
The Hays Country Sheriff's Department in Texas (YouTube screenshot)

Five U.S. Navy sailors have been charged with aggravated sexual assault in connection with a rape reported in Hays County, Texas last year.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Marine Corps Veterans salute during the 5th Marines Vietnam War Memorial unveiling ceremony in the Camp San Mateo Memorial Garden at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 28, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel)

California's high cost of living makes it a difficult place for retired military service members to settle down, according to an annual report by financial services website WalletHub.

California — home to the largest number of active-duty troops in the nation — fares poorly in the survey when it comes to affordable housing, homelessness and the proportion of of businesses in the state that are owned by veterans.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday arguing that the United States should remain engaged with the conflict in Syria, saying they were "deeply concerned" about extremist groups in the country.

Read More Show Less