Initial testing is expected to be completed in August and from there, the most viable helmets will move to the prototype phase which will include additional tests and evaluation to look at strengths and weaknesses and determine if they can meet key requirements.
Replacing legacy helmets on fixed-wing aircraft other than the F-35 has become a priority in part because over time new requirements have added sub-systems, and devices that the helmets were not originally designed for.
“The current helmets worn by aircrews in most fixed-wing aircraft were designed in the 1980s and not made to withstand and balance everything – technology – that we are putting on them,” said 1st Lt. Naomi Harper, a program manager with the Human Systems Division. “If the weight on the helmets is off, the center of gravity is completely off, which can cause neck issues and pain for our aircrews. Our goal is to find a helmet that is lighter, has more stability and is compatible with fixed-wing aircraft and equipment.”
The ATAC team comprised of a group of competitively selected mid-level military and civilian acquisition professionals from across AFLCMC, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force Test Center, are focused not only on supporting the Human Systems Division during this process, but capturing lessons learned and figuring out the best way to quickly transition technology to the Air Force through platforms like AFWERX.
“For years, the Air Force only had one vendor [for the helmet],” said Natasha Tolentino, program manager and member of ATAC. “AFWERX was able to bring in multiple non-traditional companies to compete to replace the helmets. They [AFWERX] are creating relationships that weren’t originally there, in order to help the warfighter and it is unprecedented to see how quickly this process (to replace legacy helmets) is going.”
A production contract will be awarded in fiscal 2021 for the prototype selected to be the next generation fixed wing helmet. Up to $20 million in production follow-on contracts is expected over the life of the program.