A helmet will not be of much help in an air crash, but it will save you from injuries during sharp maneuvers or turbulence – pilots began using helmets at the very dawn of aviation. Leather helmets used by motorists were adopted as the first models. Over time, when planes began to appear on the fronts of WWI and WWII, fly at higher altitudes with little oxygen, when continuous communication with the ground became a must, flight helmets were improved.

Photo: zvezda-npp.ru

Photo: zvezda-npp.ru


Headset, connection to oxygen tanks, information about the aircraft on the visor, and even virtual reality in real flight – essentially, today pilots have a full-fledged computer. Not at all like the helmets of the early 20th century.

The main task of flight helmets was to protect the pilot’s head: for example, during landings, which at the dawn of aircraft building were much harder than they are now – both because of the design of aircraft and less leveled runways. The materials were much heavier and less durable: leather, fabric, and wood, including cork oat. It was pith helmets that were popular during the First World War.

Photo: sashkinhouse.blogspot.com


The thin inner crown of the helmet with a visor of the 1914-1915 model was made of cork. The inside was upholstered with quilted cotton and pasted with cotton fabric. The upper part of the helmet, which would be hit hardest in an accident, was also made of cork, but thicker, and the outside was glued with a piece of thick fabric or leather. The void between the parts of the helmet was filled, according to various sources, with sawdust or thin iron filings. The first flight helmets only protected the ears from loud sounds and wind – there were no pilot-controller communications yet. And to not deprive the pilots of hearing completely, holes were made in those parts of the helmets that covered the ears. In the mid-1920s, the first means of aviation communication appeared, headphones and microphones began to be installed in pilots’ helmets, and the headwear was renamed to “helmetphone.”

Today, they can often be seen in war movies: leather, tight-fitting helmets with a headset. The straps on the sides held the goggles, the winter versions were insulated with fur, and the summer ones could be completely sewn from fabric. Soviet helmetphones were almost a complete copy of the German versions: during the war, they became so popular that they were used until the 1950s. Updated versions appeared, but the overall design practically did not change – new straps were added, for example, for attaching oxygen masks, metal fasteners were installed, lining options were changed.

Photo: airforce.ru

Photo: airforce.ru


Leather helmetphones formed the basis for a new generation of protective helmets, which began to be produced in the 1960s for jet pilots of the time. The increase in speed pushed for a higher level of protection, which was required, particularly, during ejection. The ZSH-3 became one of the first helmets that visually resembled modern devices, although, in fact, it was a separate helmet with folding flaps and an optical filter that was lowered manually if necessary. And an inner helmet liner was worn, the general appearance of which has not changed much since WWII.

The ZSH-5 was already produced as a single device, without a separate helmet liner, and the optical filter was lowered automatically during ejection. This model remains popular in third-world countries that purchased aircraft and pilot supplies from the Soviet Union.

Soviet-made flight helmets are already similar to modern devices, although the current electronics are much more advanced.

Targeting systems began to be installed in helmets. The first developments also appeared during the Soviet Union, in the 1980s. The device attached to the helmet creates the optical illusion of a sight, while sensors on the helmet monitor the turns of the head. It is possible to lock onto an aerial target even if it is located outside the aircraft sight on the windshield, there is no need to turn around, it is enough to look at the point that needs to be locked on. And the missile homing head also turns following the pilot’s head.

Modern helmets use night vision systems, rangefinders, and thermal imaging cameras. If necessary, all information about the flight is displayed on the screen in front of the eyes – such systems began to be produced after the indicators on the windshield of the aircraft and helmet-mounted sights were combined. Called God’s Eye, this system is comfortable for pilots, clearly transmits the image of the environment in any weather with the ability to zoom in and out, identifies friend or foe, and locks on targets.

Photo: hi-tech.mail.ru

Photo: hi-tech.mail.ru


This system works through infrared cameras mounted on the fuselage of the aircraft. The information from the sensors is transmitted to the aircraft’s on-board computer, which combines all the data into a single system and displays it on the screen in front of the pilot’s eyes. Even looking at the floor of the cockpit, the pilot sees “through” it.

This is an expensive system – helmets are customized for pilots individually, taking into account the shape of the head and face. One device costs up to $400K, and because of the complexity of manufacturing and price, they have not yet been widely distributed. Although a banal headset which allowed pilots to communicate with the earth, too, back in the first half of the 20th century was considered a luxury.


Based on open sources

Photo on the homepage: zvezda-npp.rusashkinhouse.blogspot.com