The head-up display system (HUD) originally dates back to World War II where they where used for static gun site display. These were rudimentary devices that simply projected a “pipper” to aid gun site aiming. (1) It was soon discovered that using a pipper as a gun site also improved the pilot’s awareness of his environment and enabled the pilot to situate his aircraft more accurately for airborne maneuvers and landings.
French test pilot Gilbert Klopfstein is credited with creating the first modern HUD in the 1960s. (2) The advantage of Klopfstein’s HUD is that it allowed pilots to view more aircraft data without looking down at various gauges and displays. This gave pilots better “situational awareness” and enabled them to react faster to differing flight conditions.
After Klopfstein’s initial work, engineers soon began designing more advanced features for a HUD that would project data on either a fold down display, more commonly called a HUD combiner, or glareshield mounted combiner. Today’s modern HUDs typically contain an electronics unit or video generation computer for processing data for display, a projection unit and a combiner.(3) In the beginning stages of modern HUD development the HUD would project primary flight data on the combiner. This included altitude, airspeed and heading. Today’s modern HUDs show all primary flight data, engine data, targeting data and enable pilots to make Category II landings. A Category II landing refers to an Instrument Landing System approach to a runway that relies on precision equipment such as a HUD and glide slopes to bring the pilot to the runway safely in all weather conditions. (4)
Today almost all military fixed winged aircraft and helicopters have HUDs installed. A HUD in a fighter aircraft gives the pilot complete situational awareness and targeting information for launch of air to air missiles or air to ground missiles. This enables the pilot to focus attention outside of his windscreen to see any hostile aircraft in his immediate vicinity.
Because of the advantages and safety that HUDs offer, most commercial airlines are having their airliners equipped with HUDs. Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner will come equipped with HUDs for both the pilot and copilot. (5) Heretofore, HUDs were mostly installed in the pilot’s station only, but with the safety features that are built into modern day HUDs most airlines are having HUDs installed in both the pilot’s and copilot’s stations.
Major producers of aircraft HUDs include Rockwell Collins, Honeywell and BAE. These manufactures produce HUDs for both military and civil aircraft.
HUDs are not only on aircraft. Some auto manufacturers are now putting HUDs in automobiles. Auto HUDs use a small projector in the instrument panel that reflects images off the base of the windshield in front of the driver (6). The concept of putting critical information like speed in front of the driver is thought to prevent accidents caused by drivers being distracted by other people in the car or by talking on cell phones. With critical information displayed directly on the windshield the driver will be constantly aware of how he is driving without taking his eyes off of the road.
HUDs are also being incorporated into helmets used by motorcyclists and for military uses. Advanced uses for HUDs in military headgear are gaining more advocates. With information displayed on a helmet’s eye shield soldiers have better awareness of their terrain and can see where their own troops and hostiles are located. Equipped with GPS tracking devices, these helmets can uplink to aircraft and unmanned drones that are flying overhead. Information from the surveillance aircraft and drones can be immediately downloaded to the soldiers HUD so he will have complete situational awareness of the battlefield. Also, fighter pilot’s helmets have been developed that incorporate HUDs. Vision Systems International of San Jose, California have developed pilot helmet HUDs for use with F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 fighter aircraft. (7) Vision System’s program is called the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing system and uses magnetic fields in the cockpit to sense the orientation of the helmet, then feeds information on the current line-of-sight to the aircraft’s flight computer (7).
From the humble beginnings of a HUD as a gun site device HUDs are now some of the most advanced weapon systems and safety of flight equipment on aircraft, soldier’s, pilot’s and motorcycle helmets and even automobiles. As these systems become more widely accepted they will soon be standard equipment on all aircraft and automobiles and be an integral part of any battlefield awareness systems.
(1) http://wapedia.mobi/en/Head-up_display Head-Up Display – History
(2) http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/257062 Head-Up Display
(3) http://wapedia.mobi/en/Head-up_display?t=4.#4. Head-Up Display – Components
(4) http://www.kel.com/aero/pamila/category/three/ Category II
(5) http://pilotjohn.com/2007/07/13/boeing-787-dreamliner-flight-deck-pictures/ Boeing 787 Dreamliner Flight Deck Goes High Tech!
(6) http://www.progressive.com/auto-tech/heads-up-displays.aspx Head-Up Displays Put the Essentials in Your Line-Of- Site
(7) http://www.airspacemag.com/need-to-know/NEED-helmets.html How Do
Military Aircraft Helmets Track Where Pilot is Looking