Helmet Time...occasionally. 

Some RV bird strike photos
posted in the forums over the years...

This isn't a calm stroll in the park we're engaged in here with this hobby.  A bird can take your dang head off at 170kts.

Since I already spend 15 seconds or so before each flight getting a headset, baseball cap and prescription sunglasses all positioned right, occasionally I spend roughly the same amount of time doing something instead that might end up saving my vision...and possibly my life.

I live and fly at the 'X' below....and a little research turned up the fact that I share that airspace with more than just traffic copters.

This is not really an issue at 45mph in a Cub, or doing touch 'n gos in the RV.

Over the years I've had some big stuff go right by my head at 170kts in our RV-6.  I see at least one large bird, and have to turn a little for breathing room, on almost every flight.  My buddy Randy hit an egret with his wing right next to the fuse awhile back very near our house.  Had to rebuild the gas tank - it looked like someone went at it with a baseball bat.  He said it sounded like a shotgun going off next to his ear.

I find myself in a target rich environment, and occasionally as a wingman in a 4-ship, with eyes fixated nowhere near forward.  The standard 'long' RV flight for me is the hour flight down to Waco to visit Mom.  The DFW class B shelf keeps me below 5,000' for almost half that flight.  Advantage birds.

Gibson-Barnes contacted me about becoming an advertiser on VAF back in June '12.  They sell nomex gloves, flight suits, helmets and more.  I had some questions about helmets, as I already have nomex gloves and a flight suit.

After a few weeks of thinking about it, I decided to sell one of my two Lightspeed Zulu ANRs, along with some other stuff to make up the cost difference, and ordered a HGU-55/P helmet.  The 'P' model gives me a little more head clearance with the canopy.  Customized to fit my exact head (measurement photo below) and stylized by their art department to match my RV (their idea...which I liked).  I've made a point to fly in blue jeans, leather shoes, long sleeve cotton shirt and Nomex gloves (or a flight suit) for the past year, and honestly it has turned out to be no big deal in the hassle column.  After a flight I'm back in shorts, T-shirt and ball cap in sixty seconds.  Often I stand up in the cockpit and shed the flight suit before exiting the plane.

I wear a helmet when I ride a motorcycle, bicycle and inline skates, so why not when I go nearly 200mph through birds?

On 10/2/2012, while climbing out of my home airport area at 150kts I came upon a swarm of what I would guess was between 50-75 buzzards circling about 700' AGL.  Never seen so many.  Actually made an in-the-blind radio call for the area pointing out their altitude and location.

Added benefits....

  • Can fly with my regular bifocals on and still have tinting with the visor down (my prescription sunglasses are not bifocals).
  • FULL tinting now on all sides.  My prescription sunglass can't be wrap-around because of the strong correction required.  There was always bright light leaking in from the sides.  My eyes aren't suited for contacts and lasik ain't my bag, baby.
  • Visibility upward improves (no baseball cap needed)
  • Most of my head is now fire resistant, and stands a better chance on a bad day.

Q: What about the passenger?
A: They can wear thick sunglasses and a baseball cap.  Chances are I'll still be able to see if a bird comes in unannounced (translation: I stand a better chance at landing the plane).

Having said all this, nothing would please me more than flying another 25 years without needing to see if this thing works.

PS:  Just so you know, I don't wear it on every single flight.  If I have a passenger that has their license, or am just doing 70kt touch and go pattern work (the usual flight), more times than not I'll stick with my thick prescription Wayfarers and ball cap.  If I'm traveling to Waco (thirty minute flight at less than 3,000') solo I'll usually wear the brain bucket.  Birds, high speed and no passenger equal sign helmet.  Seventy knots doing T'n'Gos equal sign ball cap and sunglasses.

More times than not I'll throw the motorcycle goggles over the regular glasses, giving me three layers of eye protection (plexi canopy, goggles, glasses).  They're tinted, unlike the pic below.  Same style though.

related: RV duck hawk strike video
           Safety Brief 'Bird Strikes'

What to expect if you order a helmet:

Step One:  They send you a 'measuring kit' with tape measure and calipers.  I stood in front of the mirror while taking these measurements to make sure I was doing it like the picture.  You write down your data and get the info back to them (I took a picture of the card with my phone and emailed it).

Step Two:  Pick a model.  I picked the HGU-55/P with single point break-away COMM cable.  The /P gives more clearance between the top of my head and the canopy.

Step Three:  Pick your options.  I went for in-helmet communications with single cord breakaway for quick egress.  The art department at GB suggested they put the site's logo on the helmet and add 'some flare' that will tie it to my aircraft.  You can get it painted to match your plane (examples).  Here is the line art we decided on - ties into the checkered patter on the tail.

10/4/12 Update:   I just received the first photo of its construction.  Here are all the parts spread out on the table before assembly.  Next they will send pictures during painting.  When it comes in, I'm going to make a picture of it my avatar in the forums.

click to enlarge

10/10/12 Update:   Painting begins.....

10/17/12 Update:   Decals that go underneath the clear layer of paint.

10/28/12 Update:   Edgeroll being sewn on...

/29/12 Update:   Done....waiting to be shipped.

11/2/12 Update:
New Helmet Random Thoughts: First Use.
 - Flew through about ten birds on the very first takeoff with the helmet.
 - You know how you're always wondering if there's another plane above that Koger shade?  Not anymore.
 - Look 90 straight up, look back over left shoulder MUCH farther....no more baseball cap brim hitting the canopy.
 - It's not nearly as heavy as I thought it would be.
 - Old headset slides out of place under G's (loops and in a crisp break).  Not this.
 - My guess is it's the same width as my normal headset - at least that's how it seems
 - I can read my watch (flying in my regular bifocals - Heaven, babe!)
 - NO sunlight spilling in from the sides of my sunglasses.  All shade.  All the time.  All directions.
 - Need to lower the seat cushion about a quarter inch
 - Gotta install the ANR upgrade.  The passive is good, but I'm an ANR snob.
 - Wife thinks I'm even more of a nerd (I'm a nerd?)
The guy I ordered it from is:  frank 'at' gibson-barnes 'dot' com.  Can answer any helmet question you got.

Quick/dirty iPhone pics from the flight

Short video after getting it...

May 2013
I'm currently using the Headsets, Inc ANR cups for noise cancellation, using the mic that came with the helmet, and using the ear buds that came with my Quiet Technologies headset underneath the ANR ear cups.  Easily as quiet as my old Lightspeeds....and much more safe.  Texas gets hot in the summer, and that means turbulence.  I hit my head on the canopy a LOT.

Yours in safety,