In response to the demands of the changing armed landscape, the AV 2.2 helmet from California-based LIFT Airborne Technologies has been chosen by the US Air Force (USAF) to become the next generation Fixed Wing helmet.

The next-generation helmet was picked after Air Combat Command started searching for one to address vulnerabilities with chronic back and neck casualties, amplify advanced aircraft technologies, elongate pilot capabilities, and focus on providing greater precision for different aircrews.

AV 2.2 [Source: Lift Airborne Technologies]
According to Aviation, GENTEX Corp. (premium helmet producer) and Idaho-based Aviation Specialties Unlimited collaborated with Tennessee-based Paraclete Aviation Support to create LIFT Technologies’ offering in the prototype phase. 

After testing, the AV 2.2 will be made available to pilots of F-15Es first, followed by all other fixed-wing aircraft services except for the F-35. According to the Air Force, an AV 2.2 manufacturing contract might be granted in 2024.

US Air Force troops are compelled to use the 1980-version helmet under the current design. However, according to Scott Cota, breakthroughs in aviation technology and changes in pilot demographic trends have resulted in pilot demographic trends transpiring since then.

“The current helmet was based on 1980s design. Since then, gains in aircraft technology and the demographic of pilots have changed,” claimed Scott Cota, the branch aircrew flight equipment program analyst of ACC Plans and Requirements.

“The legacy helmet was not originally designed to support advances in aircraft helmet-mounted display systems, causing pilots to fly with equipment not optimized for them, especially our female aircrew.”

Operators’ discomfort is a direct consequence of the weight gain and altered center of gravity induced by helmet-mounted devices. Additionally, according to Cota, a 2020 Air Force anthropometric investigation discovered the necessity for including small-size helmets that more efficiently improve the fit for impacted female pilots.

GENTEX HGU-55/P FIXED-WING HELMET SYSTEM. [Source: Gentex Corporation]
Gentex’s HGU-55/P from the 1980s will be replaced by AV 2.2. The carbon fiber AV2.2 headgear is designed to be lightweight and cooler and to make it simple to attach cueing devices and night vision goggles to the helmet. A jawbone-activated light is yet another AV 2.2 that permits pilots to access vital information when performing maneuvers or landing at nighttime.

Any reduction in helmet weight can significantly alleviate the physical toll, as high-speed, 9G maneuvers require 200-pound pilots to endure 135 pounds of pressure on their necks.

According to Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), the $20 million Next Generation Fixed Wing Helmet prototype project resulted from an AFWERX Helmet Challenge in 2019. It was one of the first AFWERX projects. To satisfy the demands of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, the cost of the new helmet program as a whole may have amounted to $400 million.

In 2019, the helmet requirement was one of the first initiatives to pass through AFWERX —an Air Force entity dedicated to partnering with unconventional defense companies to promote technological innovation.

Cota also argued that AFWERX was a “natural choice” to comprehend technological advancements better, look for creative solutions to present helmet problems, and use “vendor competition” to drive the project.

“To better understand advances in technology, seek innovative solutions to current helmet issues, and use vendor competition to drive the initiative, AFWERX was a natural choice,” Cota said.

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US Air Force 1st Lt. Kayla Bowers, a 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, prepared to fly in the cockpit of her aircraft during the 74th EFS’s deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve at Graf Ignatievo, Bulgaria, on March 18, 2016. (Source: US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden (Released), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)As the head, Cota supervised the development of the new helmet’s specifications with the other top commands and the Human Systems Program Office of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Weight, pilot convenience, improved fitting and shielding, durability, an optimized center of gravity, and integration with various helmet-mounted devices were among the essential aspects highlighted for the helmet.

Capt. Timothy James, the AFLCMC Human Systems Division of Agile Combat Support Directorate program manager, said, “Using a streamlined acquisition process to move the program, the AFLCMC took the AFWERX initiative and solicited over 100 different designs from the industry. Promising designs were evaluated and submitted for further testing.”

James also stated that they could proceed more quickly than with a traditional acquisition because of the “innovative method,” which enabled checks and balances to ensure the high-end result.

 “The innovative process has allowed us to move faster than a standard acquisition while providing checks and balances to ensure a quality product.”

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