Thales Unveils Head-Worn Display for Business Jets

Thales takes the helmet out of the helmet-mounted display and brings Top Gun technology to the business jet world. Less than three years after acquiring an innovative line of helmet-mounted displays (HMD) from U.S. helmet-maker Gentex, Thales (Chalet 263, Static B1, Hall Concorde 39) is offering the same technology for applications ranging from civil helicopters and business jets to theLockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, including an a entirely new head-worn display called TopMax.

The basic Scorpion combat HMD is already flying on U.S. Air Force F-16s, A-10s and C-130s, and is being integrated by Airbus on military helicopters. Some 1,300 Scorpions have been delivered, making it one of the world’s top-selling HMDs, and Thales has a 300-unit backlog.

The next steps, on show at the Paris Air Show, are TopEagle and TopMax. The former is a simplified version of Scorpion aimed at non-military helicopters – starting with law enforcement, emergency medical services and coast guard missions. As well as showing basic flight information, the HMD can show navigation data and engine parameters, helping the pilot stay head-out in difficult conditions.

TopMax is part of Thales’ advanced cockpit concept for commercial aircraft, particularly corporate jets which do not have space for a conventional HUD. It uses Scorpion’s display and tracker system, built into a single assembly with a standard commercial headset. Both TopEagle and TopMax could be certificated by the middle of next year, Thales says.

Scorpion and its derivatives have two key advantages over many competitors, the company says. Because it uses a thin, flat optical waveguide combiner rather than visor projection or a bulky prism, it is compatible with standard night-vision goggles.

It also has a hybrid inertial-optical head tracking system which does not use any electronics attached to the aircraft: instead, a camera on the helmet tracks reflective, coded stickers attached to the canopy or cockpit roof. This eliminates the need for magnetic mapping of the cockpit, and calibration and recalibration is a 20-min. operation. It also reduces the non-recurring cost of integrating the helmet with a new type of aircraft.

Both features explain why Scorpion has 400 flight hours in tests on the F-22. The Raptor was intended to use the standard Air Force Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System, but the JHMCS display was too big for the F-22’s narrow canopy and its magnetic tracking system created undesirable emissions. Scorpion overcame those issues.