In Depth

One Size Doesn’t Fit All at the MCAS Beaufort Pilot Fit Facility

July 19, 2017

The F-35 doesn’t take a small step in advancing fighter capabilities, it completely revolutionizes everything about how fighters fly, fight and win. This includes the equipment pilots wear as they climb into the 5th Generation cockpit. The days of strapping on a parachute harness and choosing between medium or large helmets are now replaced with the next generation pilot flight equipment.

At Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, the Pilot Fit Facility (PFF) ensures every F-35B pilot has tailored flight equipment specially fit just for them. This includes everything from the G suit and flight jacket, to the 3D molded F-35 helmet.

Mike Casazza, a retired Marine, works in the PFF and brings more than 20 years of flight gear experience to the job. But the gear he works with now is like nothing he has ever seen before.

Mike Casazza observes an F-35 helmet while working in the PFF.

“There is no other gear as custom fit for each pilot as this is,” said Mike. “I think aircrew comfort was overlooked in the past, but the F-35 gear is a lot better for the crew member and gives the warfighter what he needs to do his job.”

New pilots who haven’t flown legacy aircraft don’t have anything to compare it to, but transition pilots with hundreds or even thousands of flight hours rave about the new gear. That’s not only a testament to the design and engineering of the equipment, but also the great work done by the PFF team. There are a lot more options for sizing with the F-35 gear, so the pilots rely on the experience of Mike and his team to get the best fit possible.

“The biggest difference I’ve seen from legacy gear to F-35 is the difference in sizing,” said manager of the PFF, Lee Tincher. “With legacy gear, you have three to four sizes, whereas the F-35 has 20 sizes and a custom fit helmet.”

Lee Tincher, PFF manager.

The custom fit helmet is developed using a head scanner that precisely measures the pilots head, molding the helmet down to the exact millimeters of the individual pilot’s head. The scanner has six low intensity lasers and 12 cameras that create a 3D model of the pilot’s head that they use with a 3D model of the helmet to get the exact fit on the pilot’s head.

Once a pilot receives the fitted helmet, he goes through the helmet mounted display (HMD) alignment. This aligns the camera built into the helmet with the pilot’s eyes and enables the helmet to display everything necessary in a crisp, easy to read image.

All of these fittings ensure the pilots of the future can utilize the amazing 5th Generation capabilities built into every F-35 and be able to focus on the mission instead of their comfort on long missions that last for many hours.

“We all have a common goal and a common purpose,” said Mike. “We are prior military and still serving the armed forces on this side through our jobs.”