HGU-55 / EEU-2/P

 

Based on the below article, the pictures of this page are a supposed example of what could have been the headgear of a late '80 Swiss AF pilot in case of impending nuclear attack. 

 

As pilots make their way to and from their targets, flashes from nuclear detonations would possibly temporarily blind them, making flying their aircraft almost impossible. This transient blindness could last two minutes during the day, or up to ten minutes at night. Different countermeasures to this unwanted situation developed during the cold war.

 

One of those are the Polarized Lead Zirconium Titanate (PLZT) EEU-2/P anti-flash blindness goggles.

The PLZT is a material which can be electronically switched rapidly in polarity, such that when sandwiched with a near infrared blocking material and a fixed polarizing material, the visual transmittance can be varied from full open state to totally opaque within a ten-millionth of a second.

When electrically powered, the goggles lenses are clear. Any flash of light, such as lightning or a nuclear blast, instantaneously breaks the circuit. This causes the lenses to go black, protecting the vision of anyone wearing the device.

The EEU-2/P PLZT goggles were developed for nuclear bombers of the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) as the B-52, B-1 and FB-111, where the crewmembers would hopefully be just outside the blast, radiation, and/or heat damage radius of nuclear weapons.

 

A later version of those “one-time use” kind of gear was designated EEU-2A/P, the difference between them being that the latter remains in the dark condition less time compared to the EEU-2/P before starting to reopen. 

In some cases, as a supplemental precautionary measure, in order to overcome a possible anti-flash goggles system failure, pilots asked to wear a “Pirate eyepatch” in order to save at least one eye from blindness.

 
 

 

THE SWISS NUKE and THE EEU-2/P EVALUATION  

In 1945, less than two weeks after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Swiss Government Landesverteidigungskommission (Homeland Defence Commission) started studying the possibility of building nuclear weapons for the defence of Switzerland.

A year later, the Swiss Federal Council approved the assembling of a commission - the Studienkommission für Atomergie (Study Commission for Nuclear Energy) – in order  to evaluate the civilian uses of nuclear energy. In secret, the commission was also tasked to look into the possible military uses of it.

On March 29, 1957, the first meeting of the "Study Commission for the possible procurement of nuclear weapons" (Studienkommission fur die allfällige Beschaffung eigener Atomwaffen) took place.

In 1958, The Federal Council released a public statement stating that although a world without nuclear weapons was in Switzerland's interest, its neighbouring countries adopting nuclear weapons would force it to do likewise.

In 1961, the parliament approved a credit of 870 million Swiss francs (CHF) in order to acquire 100 Dassault Mirage III S ( "S" for "Suisse" ) combat aircrafts.

Besides having a main military goal of deterrence, strategists intended the Swiss nuclear strike capability as part of a pre-emptive war against the Warsaw Pact. The Mirage III S would have been able to carry nuclear bombs as far as Moscow. They also suggested the weapons possibly used on Swiss soil against a potential invading force.

By 1963 theoretical basics with detailed technical proposals, specific arsenals, and cost estimates for Swiss nuclear armaments made. On 4 May 1964, the military joint staff issued a recommendation to have about 100 bombs (60–100 kilotons), 50 artillery shells (5 kt), and 100 rockets (100 kt) within the next fifteen years, at costs of about 750 million Swiss francs. There were plans for seven underground nuclear tests in "uninhabited regions" of Switzerland.

On the same day as the plan presented, the government decided on an additional credit of 576 million francs for the purchase of the Mirage III. Integration of the selected Hughes TARAN ( Tactical Attack Radar and Navigation) radar/ fire control system ( others were the original French Thomson-CSF  "Cyrano II" and British Ferranti "Airpass" radar) ended up massively overpriced. One result was that the legislature launched an inquiry into the matter, and in the late summer of 1964 concluded that the military had withheld important details about the procurement plan from the legislature. The Air Force commander, the Chief of the general staff and the Minister of Defence were forced to resign, followed by a complete restructuring of the Air Force and air defence units. Only 57 aircrafts (derivative of the Mirage III E, which had enough place for the TARAN components instead of the planned but with less space available, III C) actually delivered.

Switzerland held a stockpile of 5.5 tons of raw uranium and uranium oxide until 1981, when placed under IAEA safeguards.

Switzerland signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NTP) on 27 November 1969, and its process of ratification first met with the resistance of the Federal Department of Defence. After signing the treaty, Switzerland's policy of pursuing acquiring nuclear weapons replaced by one of studying acquisition to provide options in case the treaty broke down. Switzerland ratified the treaty on 9 March 1977. Soon after that, Switzerland ratified the Seabed Arms Control Treaty.

On 30 April 1969, the Working Committee for Nuclear Issues (Arbeitsauschuss für Atomfragen - AAA) was created. It met 27 times between 26 September 1969 and 25 October 1988. However, the committee had only a preparatory role. As the Cold War started coming to an end, the AAA became less relevant. On 1 November 1988, Federal Councillor Arnold Koller signed the dissolution order and the AAA ceased to exist on 31 December of that year, thus ending the 43-year Swiss nuclear weapons program.

According later Air Force's "Korpskommandant" Arthur Moll, who was involved since the early '60 in the operational evaluation and integration of the Mirage III S electronic suite, "atomic related" equipment was never installed in the aircraft.

However, the excellent book  “Mirage; das fliegende dreieck” ( Borgeaud/ Gunti, Goatworks 2011), includes a RUAG photo showing a pilot wearing a HGU-2(26) / EEU-2/P PLZT anti-flash goggles combo.

 

 

 

The yellow helmet identifies the pilot (he always had his helmets customized by paining them yellow) in the backseat of a Mirage III DS as the same in charge of the TARAN / HM-55 Falcon live firing in Holloman, New Mexico, in the mid-‘60s.  

 

Working for the Federal Procurement Agency GRD (Gruppe für Rüstungsdienste - Armament Services Group), he wears the typical GRD modified orange CWU-27 flight suit, an USAF 425th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron patch sewed on its left shoulder.

 

The task of the 425th, based at Williams AFB, Arizona, was to train allied and foreign F-5 E/F pilots for both air combat and air to ground missions.

 

Created after the “Mirage scandal”, The GRD (now armasuisse) was (is) in charge of the evaluation/ tests of flying equipment.

 

Despite the Mirage not capable of carrying atomic weapons, at the begin of the ‘80s the GRD was tasked to evaluate the ergonomics of the PLZT flash goggles, intended to be provided as a possible standard pilot eye protection in case of nuclear conflict.

 

As the program was not considered a priority, GRD missions of other kind, such as technical flights and evaluation of other equipment were "exploited" in order to carry on the required tests. 

 

To avoid costly aircraft modifications, the goggles powered by a battery pack that the pilot kept in one of the flight suit pockets.

 

Test flights carried out on Pilatus P.3 and PC-7; two-seater (T Mk. 68) Hawker Hunter, F-5 F, Mirage III DS and Alouette III helicopter.

 

Typically installed on HGU-2(26) or HGU-55, for helicopter flights the goggles secured to a Gueneau 316 helmet. (Sadly, no pictures available...)

 

Nevertheless, some problems surfaced: the lenses activated/ darkened when nearby to specific radio or radar emissions and during vertical aerobatic manoeuvres. The equipment shipped to the US manufacturer where modifications made that resolved (but not completely) the problems encountered.

 

In addition, also because not intended for the use the SAF wanted to do, the goggles deemed heavy and uncomfortable, limiting the field of vision and, as mentioned above, despite the modifications implemented, during certain aerobatic manoeuvres the lenses would activate.

 

The use of the improved EEU-2A/P flash goggles was suggested, the difference between them was that the latter remains less time in the dark condition compared to the EEU-2/P before starting to reopen. However, this option not followed, as the evaluation of the goggles that discontinued.

Photo taken from the book Mirage; das fliegende dreieck” (see above) , published by kind permission of the authors.