Armed Forces News

The Air Force selects LIFT Airborne Technologies after Air Combat Command initiated the search for a next-generation helmet in April. After more than 30 years of long-term neck and back injuries due to the current helmet, aircrew Airmen look forward to greater applicability and better fitting helmets for operators of all sizes, genders and ethnicities. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jaylen Molden)

The Air Force has awarded LIFT Airborne Technologies of Rancho Dominguez, California, to continue development of the prototype helmet for fixed-wing crews. The company’s design was chosen after Air Combat Command (ACC) conducted a search for a helmet that would help mitigate long-term neck and back injuries, foster the best use of aircraft technologies, enable pilots to fly longer, and offer fitting that would take the diversity of aircrews into account.

The present helmet was designed in the 1980s and falls short when accounting for changes in technology and the presence of female pilots and aircrew members.

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“The legacy helmet was not originally designed to support advances in aircraft helmet-mounted displays systems, causing pilots to fly with equipment not optimized for them,” said Scott Cota, an aircrew flight equipment program analyst with ACC’s plans and requirements branch.

New advances in aircraft technology have come with a human cost – manifested by the discomfort caused by wearing legacy helmets laden with added weight that may not necessary fit correctly. Also, an internal study conducted in 2020 determined that a smaller size was needed for women. AFWERX, the Air Force internal organization charged with embracing non-traditional innovation, by then had already taken up the cause of finding a solution. The Air Force life Cycle Management Center’s Human Systems Program Office (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, also played a key role.

“Using a streamlined acquisition process to move the program, the AFLCMC took the AFWERX initiative and solicited over 100 different designs from industry. Promising designs were evaluated and submitted for further testing,” said Capt. Timothy James, AFLCMC Human Systems Division of Agile Combat Support Directorate program manager. “The innovative process has allowed us to move faster than a standard acquisition while providing checks and balances to ensure a quality product.”

While the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) conducted most of the testing, other Wright-Pat organizations– including AFLCMC, the Airmen Accommodations Laboratory and the Life Support Systems Scientific, Text, Analysis, and Qualification Laboratory also contributed. Two units based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida – the 46th Test Squadron and the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron – helped narrow down the decision to adopt the LIFT Airborne Technologies helmet.

“These new helmets will offer greater applicability and better fit for operators of all sizes, genders and ethnicities,” James said.

More testing will take place before the Air Force fully confirms the new headgear as its final choice. ACC intends to phase its delivery in to all fixed-wing aircrews, beginning with the F-15E Eagle.

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