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This Never-Before-Seen Nighttime F-35 Helmet Cam Footage Is Both Intense And Revealing

Jared Keller Avatar

We spend a lot of time talking about the hugely expensive, pilot-smothering F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, but we’ve never actually seen what it’s like to handle the next-generation aircraft from a throttle jockey’s point of view.

Luckily, that’s where Lockheed Martin’s unique Helmet Mounted Display System comes in. Rather than feed footage from a pilot’s point of view like the mega-popular GoPro, the HMDS grabs real-time imagery from six infrared cameras mounted around the body of the aircraft — allowing pilots to “look through” the airframe, in Lockheed’s words, with the equivalent of a heads-up display on steroids. 

And the results are amazing:

GIF via U.S. Navy/The War Zone

This footage comes courtesy of a presentation by F-35 Government Flight Test Director Lt. Col. D. Tom Fields at a Flight Test Safety Committee Conference last May, helpfully surfaced by our friends at The War Zone via FlightGlobal. The HMDS footage itself comes from the second part of the presentation, a night system evaluation conducted aboard the USS America in November 2016.

The snapshots from the F-35B’s nighttime test aren’t just fascinating for their intricate, ghostly view into the cockpit, but because of what goes wrong. Fields’ candid commentary on a potentially disastrous display malfunction that nearly derailed the fighter’s landing on USS America “is downright refreshing considering the usual one-sided spin we get from the F-35 Program Office and its corporate partners,” as The War Zone puts it. “Fields makes it clear: ‘We got real lucky that night.’”

GIF via U.S. Navy/The War Zone

It’s not just takeoff and landing: The video also captures a missile-heavy F-35B refueling mid-flight with a KC-135R, which resembles the weirdest machine porn I’ve ever seen.

GIF via U.S. Navy/The War Zone

You’ll want to read Tyler Rogaway’s great analysis of the F-35 capabilities on display during Fields’ presentation and how they mesh with the Pentagon Program Office’s cheerleading over at The War Zone. But in my eyes, all this footage needs is an ’80s-era, synth-heavy porn groove, and we’re officially impressed.

You can watch the whole 40-minute presentation below. The good stuff starts around 26:13.