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TopOwl boosts pilot visibility in extreme conditions

Nov 19. 2011 

Thales’s TopOwl is the world’s only helmet to offer fully integrated night vision and project infrared images right in front of the pilot’s eyes. Tested and proven in combat, the helmet sets new standards for pilot efficiency and security.

The TopOwl Helmet Mounted Sight & Display system (HMSD) has been designed by pilots for the pilots of military attack and utility helicopters. Each helmet is carefully tailored for ergonomic comfort – and offers optimal alignment between the pilot’s eyes and Line of Sight (LoS) thus avoiding the need to boresight. In addition, thanks to the singular design of the helmet, the centre of gravity coincides with the centre of gravity of the pilot’s head, inducing no neck trouble. Such natural alignment is essential to ensure pilots get the full benefit of the TopOwl’s unique fully overlapped 40-degree field of view.

Unmatched night vision

“TopOwl’s night vision system is unique,” says Pascal Point, Helicopter Avionic Strategy Director, Thales. “No other helmet features a 100% overlapped projection of a binocular image directly on the visor.” Contrary to traditional night vision goggles, TopOwl frees up pilots’ peripheral vision, allowing them to simultaneously consult mission-critical data whilst retaining the capacity to see throughout.

Thanks to a special head position sensor, TopOwl also helps pilots manage targeting and weapon firing sequences. “The whole helmet has been designed as an extension of the weapon system,” explains Point.

The system projects conformal symbology and is able to simultaneously display augmented reality information, such as a terrain grid, directly onto the helmet visor. By being coupled with infrared images or intensified images, TopOwl dramatically increases situational awareness in Degraded Visual Environments (DVE).

Augmented reality

“The virtual image is precisely superimposed onto the pilot’s real-world view in his central field of vision”, explains Pascal Point, “while critical flight data is projected on either side, in their peripheral vision.” All flight information is displayed smartly, offering pilots the data they need when they need it.

TopOwl is also extremely versatile and flexible. The pilot can instantly switches between different modes, choosing to display flight data only or combine data with augmented reality, infra-red vision or night vision.


Thales has already received some 1,600 orders for TopOwl from 16 different countries. The helmet is fully operational on five major helicopter programmes (Tiger, NH90, Cobra AH-1Z, Huey UH-1Y and Rooivalk), with an additional programme (T129) currently in progress.

“TopOwl was recently used by French and American forces in Afghanistan and by the French army in Libya,” explains Point. “It is the only helmet of its type to have proven its worth in a combat situation.”

  • Photo: ©Thomas Goisque


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