Through developing and implementing the world’s first head-up display (HUD), BAE Systems, along with Cintel, piloted the future of navigation dashboards and changed the way military pilots fly forever.
Initial concepts for HUDs were drafted at the height of World War II as a solution for pilots struggling to locate their targets in hostile skies, relying solely on verbal instructions. Initial prototypes installed were static, which made it difficult for pilots to shift their focus from the bright displays to the dark skies when flying at night. They desperately needed a way to view navigational information without having to shift their focus from the flight path. It wasn’t until HUDs were developed that pilots were able to access information hands-free, with their head positioned up and forward.
BAE Systems’ predecessor company, Elliot Flight Automation, along with Cintel, oversaw the development and manufacture of the first HUD system in operational service, used on board the Blackburn Buccaneer at its launch in 1961. A world first, it incorporated all the aspects of a modern HUD, namely optics, a high brightness cathode ray tube and programmable waveform generation. The Buccaneer HUD also displayed aircraft attitude and weapon aiming symbology for a number of different modes of attack.
As the technology developed, BAE Systems has remained at the heart of HUD innovation with night vision systems, diffractive optics, computer generated holographic technology and waveguide optics, paralled by advances in digital processing and symbol generation.
Many early strides in HUD optical and mechanical design were patented by Mr Stafford Ellis, working as part of the Rochester design team, during his 40 years in the UK aerospace industry.
Today, BAE Systems’ HUD technology can be found in many aircraft, modern fighter jets, such as the F-16, F-22 and EUROFIGHTER TYPHOON ® fighter jet, C-17 military transport and business jets.
Indeed much of the advanced optical design and solid state image source technology has been applied to the next-generation Helmet-Mounted Displays (HMD) such as the STRIKER ® II helmet. The HMD effectively transfers the fixed HUD on to the pilot’s head with information projected directly onto the visor. Designed to be adaptable and boasting breakthrough advances in night vision and cutting-edge tracking technologies, STRIKER ® II helmet is expected to be used in the world’s most advanced jets for decades to come.
The HUD concept has also found its way into commercial use, benefitting millions of travellers as a standard feature in many modern civil aircraft and, increasingly, in the latest vehicles from brands like Mercedes and BMW. To date, BAE Systems has delivered over 14,500 HUDs.