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U.S. helmet subject of possible air show espionage

By ROMAN ROLLNICK

LONDON -- British officials investigated Friday why someone scaled a 10-foot wall, broke into a locked office at the Farnborough international air show and took apart a state-of-the-art U.S. fighter pilot's helmet that projects computerized target information.

'There was an alleged incident at the air show involving such a helmet and Ministry of Defense officials have been called in to help police investigate,' a British defense spokesman said.

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He declined to speculate on whether it was a case of industrial or military espionage at the Farnborough '88 air show southwest of London, where exhibits representing the aircraft and technology of 24 nations - including the Soviet Union -- are on display.

Michael Burch, vice president for public relations of the U.S. McDonnell Douglas Corp., said Kaiser Electronics, based in San Jose, Calif., had spent millions of dollars developing the 'Agile Eye' helmet.

But he downplayed reports the helmet was secret or sensitive.

'Some media reports in Britain are talking about something secret being stolen,' he said. 'It is not something supersecret. If it were secret it would not have been on display. The Agile Eye is in fact state-of-the-art technology in a very clever application.'

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But an air show spokesman, Dan Honley, said he suspected industrial espionage and added: 'They've spent millions on this, and they feel their secrets have been purloined.'

Burch said the break-in occurred sometime between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday at Farnborough, a test flight airfield.

'Sometime on the night before last, a person or persons gained entry to a locked office after scaling a 10-foot wall, somehow got inside, and apparently took the Agile Eye helmet apart to look at it,' he said.

'It seemed to have been put together again, and was left where it was found, and no other valuables such as cash and cameras also locked in the office were touched,' Burch said.

'We do not know the motive behind this,' he added. 'When one of our people discovered what had happened and came to tell us, police with whom we were chatting at the time immediately started an investigation.

Burch said the helmet is not yet in production 'because it is still undergoing development.'

'It works by projecting a lot of information a pilot needs inside his visor so that he is able to keep his head up and look for enemy aircraft,' Burch said.

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He said the helmet, connected to the on-board computer and software, allows the pilot to 'look through the projection screen into the sky and at the enemy, and track a greater number of targets.'

'It has a place in any modern fighter plane and there has been a considerable amount of interest in it at Farnborough,' Burch said. 'The Swiss have tried it out four times in a U.S. F-18 jet.'

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