Monday, December 3, 2012

Praxis: Tire Iron's Poor Man's MICH Helmet.

The Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) compared to PASGT helmet outline. The newer Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) is derived from the MICH and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
Yesterday, in my Kevlar Helmet Update, I mentioned that "Tire Iron's" post on the Poor Man's MICH, originally posted on AWRM, was no longer available. I asked if some reader could forward it to me and here it is, below, courtesy of CFB. A deep genuflection and a tip of the boonie hat to him.
Poor Man's MICH by "Tire Iron"
The USGI Kevlar helmet (PASGT – Personal Armor System Ground Troops – don’t you just love military acronyms?) is better protective headgear than the ‘ole M1 steel helmet of WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, and countless other actions.
It provides superior ballistic protection as a result of being made from Kevlar instead of thin gauge steel. I remember as a young boy, playing ‘war’ almost daily, wearing a M1 steel helmet. I ‘thought’ that this helmet made the wearer invincible – and that it could repel projectiles like tennis balls off a concrete wall. When I was a mid-teenager, I took a M1 helmet out in the hills with me to check it with ‘real’ bullets. I shot it with a .22 long rifle cartridge (fired from a Ruger 10/22) at a distance of 50 yards. To my utter horror and surprise – the bullet penetrated the helmet, leaving a jagged hole where used to be pristine steel. This started my curiosity of helmets, their design, and their performance in the ‘real’ world.
My first encounter with the USGI ‘Fritz’ (or K-pot) was in 1983 at USMC boot camp. When I had a few spare moments (which were MIGHTY few) I started to evaluate this helmet against the helmet of my boyhood (M1 steel helmet). I could see that there were some definite improvements in the design, but I also recognized that there were some definite ‘draw-backs’ to the design as well.
For instance – the helmet limited visibility in the upper peripheral as well as the left and right side peripheral areas. In other words, by rolling the eyes up and then to each side, one could ‘see’ helmet – thus the helmet was blocking areas that could otherwise be ‘seen’ if the helmet weren’t worn. This required the user to actually turn their head to look in that direction, when without the helmet – the eyes could have just rotated in their sockets – while the head remained stationary. As we all know – movement is a target indicator – so, any ‘extra’ movement is ‘bad’.
Also, the helmet does limit auditory abilities. The helmet actually covers the ear canal, thus inhibiting the wearer of being able to hear all available sound. The wearer actually has to tilt his/her head up to enable sound to come direct to the ear canal. At the same time, the other side of the head is tilted down, degrading the hearing in the opposite ear even further.
And – as stated above – movement is a target indicator, making any extra movement a ‘bad’ thing.
The suspension is another area where the designers ‘missed the boat’. The chin strap allows for the helmet to rotate down in front of the wearer’s face, TOTALLY blocking all vision. This is not a good thing. And while it allowed rotation forward, it also allowed rotation backward. Padding is non-existent, and the suspension is a direct – nearly unchanged – descendant of the M1 steel helmet. SURELY we have had some improvements in suspension design since the 1940’s haven’t we??
It is interesting to note that when I was sent to ‘Jump School’ (or as the Army calls it ‘Airborne’ school) we were issued a rear pad and some extra strapping meant to limit that forward and rear-ward rotation. (The only time we jumped with the Fritz after jump school, was when we were jumping with the Army and the jumpmaster would not let us wear our camouflaged motorcycle helmets, or later our Pro-Tec skateboard helmets. We knowingly gave up the ballistic protection for better visibility, better hearing – the ProTec has ‘holes’ so there is nothing covering the ear canal – and more comfort.)
Then – long after ‘my’ time, the MICH (Modular Integrated Communication Helmet) helmet came out. It is a better mousetrap. It handily solves the problems present in the Fritz, and a few others too.
For one, the ‘suspension’ system is not really a suspension system at all, but rather some black high tech foam pads (visco-elastic, temperature and pressure sensitive padding) that are moveable/removable to suit the wearer. These pads also decrease the shock transmission dramatically – like from 220 g’s to 77 g’s. In other words, what would be a 220 ‘g-force’ transmitted to the head through the Fritz would only be a 77 ‘g-force’ transmitted to the head through the MICH padding. Recognizing that a ‘g-force’ of 200 will cause significant injury/concussion (300 ‘g-force’ causes death) – and that a ‘g-force’ below 90 represents no injure at all, puts that ‘point spread’ into perspective, doesn’t it?
The padding is also water-proof, so the helmet/padding does not get ‘heavier’ from being wet. The padding, although waterproof, is air permeable, coupled with the ‘self wicking’ fabric that covers the padding draws out much of the heat/perspiration away from the scalp reducing heat build-up and ‘hot spots’ in the helmet.
The padding is buoyant, so the helmet will actually float in water! Supply Sergeants will like that – but even more important – if you take a spill with this helmet on, it will actually help you float, instead of being an anchor attached to your head like the current Fritz helmet would be. The chin strap arrangement on the MICH is a ‘four point’ affair; with two attach points in the rear, and two near the front. This provides vastly superior performance compared to the two point chin strap on the Fritz, and even some of the three-point ‘upgrades’ offered by some companies. The real difference is where the ‘front’ attach points are located. The chin strap on the Fritz is located at the perfect pivot point on the helmet – and pivot points on helmets are ‘bad’. The chin strap attach point on the MICH is further forward, well past the pivot point. That is good.
The MICH also is ‘cut’ different. There is full forward and side peripheral vision, i.e. when one rotates one’s eyes around, one does not see helmet! The helmet is cut higher in the ear area too, so the helmet does not cover the ear canal. This greatly improves hearing compared to the Fritz helmet!
As you can probably tell by now, the MICH is a much better way to go.
Here is the downside though. The price of the MICH is MUCH higher than the Fritz helmet. In fact the retail price for the MICH is approaching $500.00! That puts it out of reach for almost everyone that will not be ‘issued’ one.
So – this starts the second part of the story. Being on a normal budget as I am (I am NOT Bill Gates, actually closer to Elmer Fudd) I have had this project going on in my basement that I have named the “Poor Man’s MICH helmet” – and I must admit that is has been a success in meeting my goals.
My goal was to take a regular USGI Fritz helmet, and modify it to be as close to a MICH as I could make it. This modification can be done by anyone with a few tools found in most garages/basements.
Here is what I did.
I took the lining out of a Fritz helmet, and kept all of the hardware (but chucked the lining and chin strap). Then I drew on the helmet with a magic marker where I wanted to cut. Now the nasty part. I donned a cloth mask, and safety glasses, and ground off the places of the helmet that I wanted to remove. This did take some time, and it was dusty and stinky. And no, I will not do yours!
Once I had that done, I applied some pliable epoxy (“RepairitQuick” found at my local Home Depot store) around the edges to cover the grind marks and to stop any fraying of Kevlar fibers. After that a quick dowsing with Isopropyl Alcohol to get rid of all the dust in preparation for painting. A quick coat of Wal-Mart OD paint brought it back to its original color.
I purchased the padding from Brad at Lightfighter ([url= http://""][/url]) – and it is made by the same company that provides the padding for the MICH – so it has all the same properties. I purchased the four point chin strap direct from the company (Brad didn’t carry it at the time, but he does now!).
Now I had all of my materials. The instructions that were included with the parts were very well written, and easy to follow.
The result?? I now have a “Poor Man’s MICH”. When I roll my eyes, I see no helmet. My ear canals are not obstructed by Kevlar. I have the same superior suspension and chin strap as the MICH. All for A LOT less money. My “Poor Man’s MICH” costs are: $50 for the FRITZ (check e-bay); the ‘Padding’ upgrade is $88 ([url= http://""][/url]); the four-point chin strap is $48 ([url= http://""][/url]); the epoxy was $3 (Home Depot); and the paint was $2 (WalMart). This brings the project total to $191 – which is within reach for most folks/police officers/smaller police departments, cause they can buy a little at a time, instead of dropping down $542 dollars for a MICH (or even the $419 that Brad gets for them at [url= http://""][/url].
So for those of you that are on a budget, and want/need the benefits of the MICH – but don’t have the dough – give this project a try!
Below are two pics fo the USGI Fritz 'in action'. Note how the ear canal is completely covered and the obstructed visibility. Also note in the second picture that the wearer has actually tipped the helmet back in an attempt to get better visibility. The down side is that if it can be tipped back, it can also be tipped forward - perhaps blocking all vision.
Two views of the PASGT "Fritz" or "K-Pot" Helmet
Side view of MICH helmet. Note un-obstructed ear canal and vision, and four point chin strap.
Front view of MICH helmet. Note un-obstructed ear canal and vision.
The approximate areas I cut off my Fritz.
My Poor Man's MICH side view. Note 'clear ear canal' and un-obstructed view, plus four-point chin strap.
Front view of the Poor Man's MICH helmet.
Inside view of both helmets. MICH helmet on left, and Poor Man's MICH (or Near MICH) on right.
tire iron


Tom Stedham said...

Great article! Very useful.

Doc said...

This is interesting. The PASGT helmets are indeed very cheap right now. We sell them regularly for $35 or less. It's the MCH/ACH retrofit kits that are expensive. They are hard to find at a reasonable price.

But, if an ACH type helmet is what you want, why not buy a real ACH Helmet from for $199.99! We don't always have them, but when we do, they are reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Trying to cut-down a K-Pot is a good way to turn a good helmet into a "F"ed-up target. Why not just go buy a ACH , I see them at the fle Mkt. about 2-3 times a month. Not cheap but they ARE out there.

B said...

when he wrote that back in the early 2000s, it was a great post. Now, you can buy used ACH (smae thing as MICH) for a hundred bucks. You are going to spend that on the poor man's MICH just for the pads and the new head harness/suspension. Just get a used Army Combat Helmet on Ebay.


Anonymous said...

This guy really knows his stuff, but he always writes in such weird style. What's with all those words in quotes he always uses?

Anonymous said...

Looks like a lot of new exposure in critical areas of the head.
In that sense, could be more lethal to wear in combat

Anonymous said...

"Looks like a lot of new exposure in critical areas of the head.
In that sense, could be more lethal to wear in combat."

Exactly what I was thinking especially when I read "The MICH also is ‘cut’ different. There is full forward and side peripheral vision, i.e. when one rotates one’s eyes around, one does not see helmet! The helmet is cut higher in the ear area too, so the helmet does not cover the ear canal. This greatly improves hearing compared to the Fritz helmet!"

Great! So now the infantryman can hear the bullet right before it hits him in the ear canal. When you rotate your eyes around you don't see helmet! Brilliant! Meaning there is much less there to protect you.

Seriously, these MICH helmets look like little Kevlar yarmulkes. Cost way more than the PASGT, protective coverage quite degraded plus they look silly as shit, like a grown man wearing a plastic toy helmet. Why do you think the PASGT (and the German helmet from WWII that its shape was designed around) had those parts that went low over the ears in the first place? To provide much more protection to the ear and side of the head than an M1 steel pot could ever hope to or this MICH junk. Why did the PASGT and German helmet stick out farther in the front? To provide much more protection to your brow from shrapnel or debris falling straight down onto your head. Now if a brick falls right in front of your face it could take your nose clean off. But hey, they cost quite a bit more than what a new PASGT would cost for a possibly more comfortable but much less protective helmet and if the Dept. of Defense has proven anything it's that it loves to spend money so it seriously wouldn't surprise me if next year replaced all these MICH helmets and paid $5,000 apiece for a helmet about as big around as a silver dollar. If you want to go the comfort route, know what's even more comfortable and allows more situational awareness than a MICH helmet? A boonie hat.