The latest state-of-the-art night-vision helmet should probably come with a warning label: “May cause uncontrollable laughter.” Despite its goofy, high-tech-Frankenstein appearance, the helmet actually makes a significant improvement in night vision by doubling the field of view compared to—and making that view much sharper than—the view through current goggles.
Called the High Resolution Night Vision System (HRNVS), these helmets are designed to give U.S. Air Force pilots higher-resolution images and an over-80-degree field of view, which is much better than the fuzzy, 40-degree field of view of conventional goggles. With the helmet in place, a pilot simply flips the viewers over his eyes to peer into the night. Each eyepiece is fed a synced image from two digital night-vision sensors. In addition to seeing more, the pilot also receives a crisper image because the helmet is programmed to enhance edges and contrasts, says SA Photonics, the company that developed the device. And as he spies another aircraft, a HUD-like digital overlay tells him how high it is and how fast it’s moving; and he can even record what he’s seeing as a video.
According to Michael Browne, vice president of product development at SA Photonics, the night-vision graphic above is only “a night vision-like image that represents what the increased field of view helps pilots see as compared to their standard night vision goggle.” The actual images seen by the goggles are restricted by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which, as Browne told me in an email, means that “you can’t share high res imagery where you know that that imagery might be viewable by non-U.S. Citizens.” (Basically, if we showed you, and you happen to have been born in another country, we’d have to kill you.)
As this simulated image shows, a person equipped with the HRNVS would be able to see the control tower, whereas a person with standard night vision wouldn’t. And if they’re ever used on the ground, these helmets might even be able to disarm night-visioned enemies, who would be too busy laughing at you to attack.
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Image: SA Photonics / Michael P. Browne