It’s unlike Crikey to say anything good about the F-35 — and so we won’t. But we have found a problem with the plane that can’t fly, can’t shoot, can’t dogfight and isn’t ready for combat despite being designated as “combat-ready” that isn’t directly to do with the plane itself. Turns out, the helmet is looming as a potential weak link in the entire project. Huh? We’ve come a long way from the days of leather caps and goggles, of course, and the F-35 helmet is designed to be the last word in information-display systems for pilots, with an entire, massively complex data and camera system geared to individual pilots’ eye movements.
But according to The Economist, the helmets take two days to properly tailor to a pilot’s eye movements, and that can only be done by one company, Rockwell Collins. If you drop a helmet, you can’t borrow another pilot’s, because that’s been tuned to their eye movements, not yours. So if you wanted to cripple a country’s complement of F-35s, all you’d need to do is take a hammer to the pilots’ helmets, and they can’t fly — they’d have to troop off to Rockwell Collins to spend two days being fitted for some more headgear — which costs a mere $400,000 a pop. Same deal if the equipment-laden helmets develop a fault — unless you have a spare, you’re not in the air.
Then there’s the problem that the helmets are so large that pilots have complained of not being able to move their heads inside the cockpit. And at 2.4 kilograms, the helmets are heavy enough to severely or even fatally damage a pilot’s cervical spine if they have to eject. All things considered, it seems the Flying Heap of Crap really is not merely too expensive but too dangerous to ever send into actual combat.