Lifting the Lid

Avatar for Vertical MagBy Vertical Mag | July 19, 2013

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 4 seconds.

“Oh, wow!” This was the unanimous response from roughly a dozen crew members I work with when I handed them the Alpha Eagle Dual Visor helmet I was recently testing. Like me, they couldn’t get over the helmet’s weight — or lack thereof — as compared to the helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) program-issued helmets we use now.
However, I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so let’s back up to the beginning. Robert Munoz, general manager of Tucson, Ariz.-based Pro Flight Gear, had contacted me several months ago and offered the use of the Alpha Eagle helmet for review. While at Heli-Expo in Las Vegas in March, we met and I was fitted for the demo. A couple of weeks later I began a week’s worth of test flying while on my HEMS hitch.
The ultra-light helmet is constructed from epoxy resin aramid and carbon fiber. On the helmet I’m flying with now, the adjustments are few — chin strap, rear nape strap, and internal ear cup tension straps. 
With the Alpha Eagle, you have more fine tuning options for an adjustable custom fit. Two snaps adjust the fit of the crown and ear cups. It’s kind of like the “walk” setting on a pair of ski boots. The nape is adjustable by means of a ratcheted wheel on the back that twists like a construction hard hat to tighten. To release, it’s a simple matter of pushing the button in the center of the wheel. 
Donning the helmet takes just a little bit more effort than with other helmets I’ve worn, because you need to hold a little tab on each ear cup to keep them out of the way as you swing it onto your head. However, it took me only a couple of practice tries to become smooth at the process. Snap the two crown locks closed, a couple of twists on the nape ratchet wheel, and I had the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever worn.
While the exterior presence of the helmet is one of considerable size, I found that no part of the helmet encroached on my field of view. The helmet’s size is primarily due to the visor system and cover, which wraps around to the sides. My demo unit had two visors installed — clear and tinted, and I found them to be the smoothest and easiest visors to operate I’ve ever experienced. 
In the air, I immediately noticed a different sound signature versus my normal helmet. The low frequency rumble was considerably lowered, while the ear cups had a more snug fit and didn’t allow air leak from my glasses. The altered noise signature allowed me to more clearly detect the four-per beat of the rotor system. It was not louder mind you — just more discernible.
The audio was very clear and the fit and the passive sound reduction were so good that I don’t see the need for active noise reduction or extra ear plugs with the Eagle. And the fit was so natural that even after longer flights I detected no “hot spots” of discomfort. 
My only gripes with the helmet I’m including in the interests of writing a balanced review, though they may seem a bit picky. Firstly, the coiled cord is a little short. I understand that it’s designed for the normal connection to where the overhead jacks are in most helicopters, but in our aircraft, the front seat jacks are on the back of the lower center pedestal, so I had to use an extension cord to make it work.
Secondly, the chin strap fastener works by sliding a flat plastic catch at the end of the strap through a slot that then grabs the catch. Sometimes I was able to quickly and smoothly connect or unhook the fastener, other times I had to fumble with it. And if I had been wearing gloves, it would have been even more challenging. I would have preferred the more traditional snap fastener or looping it through a ring and fastened with Velcro.
My demo unit didn’t have provisions to mount night vision goggles (NVGs), so I can’t report on that aspect. However, I do know I’d welcome the lighter weight and the ability to fine tune the NVG vertical positioning via the adjustable visor cover pitch.
All in with options, the Alpha Eagle can hit $2,000 US. But you get what you pay for. For programs demanding hours of helmet wearing, I can’t believe it could be much better for your hearing, neck, and back than with the Alpha Eagle.

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