Eynde JO, Yu AW, Eckersley CP, Bass CR (2020). Primary blast wave protection in combat helmet design: A historical comparison between present day and World War I. PLOS ONE 15(2): e0228802.
Since World War I, helmets have been used to protect the head in warfare, designed primarily for protection against artillery shrapnel. More recently, helmet requirements have included ballistic and blunt trauma protection, but neurotrauma from primary blast has never been a key concern in helmet design. Only in recent years has the threat of direct blast wave impingement on the head–separate from penetrating trauma–been appreciated.
This study compares the blast protective effect of historical (World War I) and current combat helmets, against each other and ‘no helmet’ or bare head, for realistic shock wave impingement on the helmet crown.
Helmets included World War I variants from the United Kingdom/United States (Brodie), France (Adrian), Germany (Stahlhelm), and a current United States combat variant (Advanced Combat Helmet). Helmets were mounted on a dummy head and neck and aligned along the crown of the head with a cylindrical shock tube to simulate an overhead blast. Primary blast waves of different magnitudes were generated based on estimated blast conditions from historical shells. Peak reflected overpressure at the open end of the blast tube was compared to peak overpressure measured at several head locations.
All helmets provided significant pressure attenuation compared to the no helmet case. The modern variant did not provide more pressure attenuation than the historical helmets, and some historical helmets performed better at certain measurement locations. The study demonstrates that both historical and current helmets have some primary blast protective capabilities, and that simple design features may improve these capabilities for future helmet systems.