Fighter-Jet Pilots With 3-D Audio Cut Chatter to Find ThreatsAlexa Liautaud
Terma A/S, a supplier of parts for the tail of the F-35 fighter jet, wants a bigger place in the cockpit -- inside the pilot’s head.
The Danish manufacturer has developed a noise-filtering headset that separates the “cocktail party buzz” of chatter, so a pilot doesn’t feel like dozens of people are talking at the same time, from the same point. Terma’s so-called 3-D audio technology is used by the Royal Danish Air Force’s F-16 pilots, and has attracted interest from companies including BAE Systems Plc, Europe’s largest weapons maker.
“You’re basically losing a sense when you step into the cockpit” and put on a traditional headset, Michael Houmann Tandrup, director of airborne applications, said in an interview this week at the Farnborough Air Show near London. “We are giving that capability back to you.”
The technology is more than a convenience. The device reduces acoustical and electrical noise, allowing the pilot to focus on essential communications. The end goal is to alleviate the stress and fatigue that military pilots face in flight, boosting their accuracy -- and survival -- when reacting to threats such as an incoming missile.
The 3D Audio Acoustical Noise Reduction/Electrical Noise Reduction headset -- ANR/ENR for short -- has sensory integration hardware that gives sounds different locations. The pilot hears someone talking in his left ear, for example, while other information comes from behind toward the right ear. That stays in sync with movements of the pilot’s head, and serious warnings simulate the direction from which the threat is coming.
Terma, owned by Thrige Holding A/S, is garnering interest outside Denmark. It has tested the 3-D audio product with BAE Systems to explore potential collaboration. It has fitted the system in a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in a U.S. Army program led by Raytheon Co. to improve what military types call the pilot’s “situational awareness.” Both BAE and Raytheon offer pilot headsets.
The helicopter work affirmed the “world-class standard” of the technology, Terma said in a report. Referring to a system that includes the 3-D audio, the report quotes a U.S. Navy Special Operations officer as saying “I can only compare it to being blind my whole life, then suddenly seeing.”
The Danish company already is a global defense manufacturer, with contracts to supply General Dynamics Corp. and Boeing Co. It makes composite parts for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. Systems integrators that combine technology are also potential customers for headsets, according to Kasper Rasmussen, a Terma spokesman.
Terma’s revenue amounted to 1.14 billion kroner ($206 million) for the fiscal year ended in February, according to its annual report. It had a record order book at year-end, including the five-year framework agreement related to the F-35, of 2.51 billion kroner, even as U.S. and European militaries scaled back defense budgets.
The company also has confidential agreements with a U.S. government research laboratory and aircraft manufacturers regarding future use of the 3-D audio system, Tandrup said. The company doesn’t plan to entertain an acquisition of the technology, he said.
“We see more mutual value and benefits in Terma cooperating” with plane manufacturers, Tandrup said. “3-D audio is of strategic importance to Terma and it requires special skills and know-how.”