Aviation Specialties Unlimited, May 27, 2019 - Aviation Specialties Unlimited, Inc., (ASU) announced today that they delivered four prototype helmets to the U.S. Air Force at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada.
ASU was one of only three finalists selected by the AFWERX Fixed Wing Helmet Challenge in November of 2018. More than 110 companies submitted helmet designs initially in 2018. In October of 2018, the field narrowed to 38 companies and lastly to the final three.
“To be selected as a finalist by the AFWERX team is a tremendous honor,” said ASU Director of Business Development Chad St. Francis. “Our team has worked on this project diligently for months to help solve the needs presented by the Air Force for the next generation of helmets.”
The AFWERX helmet prototypes delivered by ASU were designed to address improved comfort, safety, and ease of integration of future technologies. ASU executives have developed, patented, produced, and delivered five separate systems to warfighters for nearly 40 years.
“Our helmets include the latest in impact, thermal, head-borne weight, and stability management,” said ASU Chief Technology officer Dr. Joe Estrera. “We took into consideration that the helmet needed to be comfortable to wear, yet rugged to protection for pilots and crew members. Our design represents a delicate balance of the two. We feel we were able to address the requirements using newer materials for manufacturing that were not available in older generation helmets. We also designed the prototypes to easily add new technologies that we anticipate will be integrated into the helmets of the future. This forward-thinking design mentality not only allowed us to address our current needs but also future enhancements. ”
ASU’s Light Aviation Stable Ergonomic Relaxed-Fit or LASER-Fit helmet concept is a collaborative effort with Paraclete Aviation Life Support. The solution proposed to improve the current U.S. Air Force fixed-wing helmet is designed to reduce neck load, improve comfort and stability, reduce neck injury, and seamlessly integrate with current and future technologies and attachments.
“Our collaboration with ASU on this project enabled our companies to produce an innovative solution that we believe will become the standard on the next generation of helmets,” said Paraclete Aviation Life Support owner and President Scott Hedges. “Between our expertise in aviation helmet manufacturing and ASU’s technical and program knowledge, we were able to produce the prototypes we feel will not only meet but exceed AFWERX expectations. As a retired military aviator myself, I know the importance of this project. This helmet can keep our men and women safer, more comfortable, and ready to take on their next mission.”
A team of experts from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Human System Division and the Advanced Tactical Acquisitions Corps. reviewed the helmets. The final decision is expected to be made in August of 2019 on the final design. A production contract is expected to be awarded to the winner in the fiscal year 2021 that could be up to $20 million.
“ASU was founded by a retired member of the military, and today its employees comprise numerous active and retired members of multiple branches within the United States armed forces. When we designed this helmet, we designed it from the experiences many of our pilots had while flying as well as feedback from the industry.
Our team understands that every gram matters. They understand that forward integration matters. Ultimately, they understand that giving our pilots the best helmet possible to help them complete their missions is the goal. Offering a comfortable, stable, safer helmet platform fits the mission of ASU and the desire of every member of the company to meet the needs of our Warfighters,” said St. Francis.
About Paraclete Aviation Life Support: Paraclete Aviation Life Support passionately believes that aviation life support equipment saves lives, and this passion colors everything we do. We manufacture, sell, and service the Aegis™ and Aspida™ family of aviation helmets.
About AFWERX: Since it was first established in 2017 by the Secretary of the Air Force, AFWERX’s core mission has been to improve Air Force capabilities by connecting innovators, simplifying technology transfers, and accelerating results to the warfighter. This most recent event has propelled the collaboration program to new heights.
Air Force to review potential fixed wing helmet replacements at AFWERX event
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio By Brian Brackens – A team of experts from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Human Systems Division and the Advanced Tactical Acquisition Corps, will travel to Las Vegas, Nev., for a May 22 event showcasing helmets that could replace the legacy helmets currently worn by aircrew in most fixed-wing aircraft.
Hosted by AFWERX Vegas – an Air Force innovation hub specializing in engaging entrepreneurs and private sector vendors – the event is open to the public and will feature Lift Aviation, Aviation Specialties Unlimited and GENTEX, which are all companies vying to be selected to produce the next generation helmet for use in all fixed-wing aircraft other than the F-35.
Each company will present four proof-of-concept helmets which will be evaluated by the AFLCMC team to determine their potential to meet Air Force needs.
Challenged to show their best effort at the event, the three companies have been told the Air Force is looking for the realm of the possible, said Sonja Crowder, a member of ATAC and test engineer. She added that after the event AFLCMC would take the 12 helmets and coordinate testing on them to see how they stack up against requirements and the current legacy helmets.
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 1980’s 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 year 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.