1. A self load-balancing, headset-clearance-accommodating helmet strap system useable with a helmet shell having front, rear and opposite lateral sides, said strap system, in operative condition, comprising a chin-strap cinching subsystem including (a) a pair of opposite-side, elongate, flexible, lateral strap elements intended for use on opposite lateral sides of such a helmet shell, and each having opposite ends, and (b) an elongate chin-engaging component also having opposite ends each slideably mounted on a different one of said lateral strap elements between the opposite ends of these elements, and for each of said lateral strap elements, a pair of attaching devices effectively mounted on such a helmet shell, with one attaching device being designed for attaching one end of a lateral strap element operatively adjacent an associated front lateral side of a helmet shell, and the other attaching device being designed for attaching the other end of the same lateral strap element operatively adjacent an associated rear lateral side of the helmet shell.
2. The helmet strap system of claim 1, wherein each said one attaching device which is associated with the one end of the associated lateral strap element furnishes, relative to that strap element's long axis, a pivotal-style mounting for that one end.
3. The helmet strap system of claim 2, wherein each said one attaching device additionally furnishes a laterally slideable mounting for the associated lateral strap end.
4. The helmet strap system of claim 3, wherein each said other attaching device which is associated with the other end of the associated lateral strap element furnishes, relative to that strap element's long axis, a pull-to-cinch-and-tighten, friction-action mounting for that other strap end.
5. The helmet strap system of claim 1 which further comprises a collection of plural load-cushioning pads removeably and adjustably deployable within the inside of such a helmet shell in manner enabling selective adjustment of the pads between one condition affording a lateral clearance path for the head strap of a headset, and another condition effectively closing that path.
HEADSET-ACCOMMODATING, LOAD-BALANCING, HELMET STRAP
Background and Summary of the Invention
The present invention relates to a self-load-balancing helmet strap system which featuring a chin-strap cinching, or simply a chin-strap, subsystem which uniquely accommodates the wearing and use, along with a load-cushioning helmet per se, of an audio headset communication system of the type having the usual central, elongate, overhead band (headband), and pair of lateral earphone units mounted adjacent opposite ends of this band. Very specifically, the system of the present invention is designed especially to accommodate both (a) automatic lateral load balancing, and (b) cooperative wearing and use of a helmet shell and an audio headset, without in any way compromising the utility of an internal, load-cushioning pad system which is critically designed to provide both comfort and shock-absorbing protection for the wearer. A preferred and best mode embodiment of the invention is described and illustrated herein in the context of a military helmet - an environment wherein the invention has been found to offer special utility, hi this setting, the invention is described in relation to certain other helmet componentry, including an internal suspension frame, or suspension (two different styles are described herein), for mounting various internal components, such as a load-cushioning pad system, and a special pad-position-adjustable load-cushioning pad system per se. In the environment of this other helmet-associated structure, it will be important to note how the features of the present invention uniquely cooperate with this other structure.
While it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that various kinds of helmet-shell internal suspensions and load-cushioning pad systems may be employed
along with the present invention, one embodiment of the invention is illustrated and described herein in relation to (a) a helmet-shell suspension structure made in accordance with the teachings of U.S. Patent No. 6,681,409 B2 covering an invention entitled "Helmet Liner Suspension Structure", and (b) a suspension-mountable load- cushioning pad system made in accordance with the teachings of U,S. Patent No. 6,467,099 B2 covering an invention entitled "Body-Contact Cushioning Interface Structure". The suspension and load-cushioning pad system illustrated and disclosed respectively by these two patents cooperatively present to the head of a wearer a frame-supported arrangement of adjustably, changeably and removeably attachable acceleration-rate-sensitive, shock-absorbing pads. These pads are designed to provide high-level shock-impact protection to the head of a wearer under circumstances where, preferably, an entire helmet system utilizing these components is bilaterally load-balanced on a wearer's head.
In another embodiment of the invention, where additional lateral and vertical clearance inside the opposite sides of a helmet shell may be desired to accommodate especially bulky headset earphone units, a shorter, rear-sector-disposed helmet-shell suspension structure is used - having an overall "length" whereby its opposite ends terminate, inside the helmet shell, rearwardly "short" of where such earphone units will reside when the subject headset is worn. As will be seen, the system of the present invention, which is largely featured in the structure of and mounting for a unique chin-strap cinching subsystem, accommodates this other helmet-internal componentry (suspension and load- cushioning pads) in a manner easily enabling lateral self-load-balancing of an entire helmet system, and in a context which, in the bargain, so-to-speak, also uniquely accommodates non-interfering presence of an audio communication headset of the
type generally described above. In other words, the system of the present invention not only easily accommodates the cooperative wearing, with a helmet, of an audio headset, but does so in a manner, and with features, which uniquely also accommodate and offer proper lateral self-load-balancing on a wearer's head. In a military helmet, protective load-cushioning, lateral-load-balancing, and, for certain military personnel, easy accommodation for the simultaneous wearing of auxiliary headgear, such as a communication audio headset, are high on the list of important conditions to-be-achieved. As will be seen from the description which follows below, the present invention uniquely and successfully addresses these considerations, and does so in a manner which promotes all of them without compromising any. Significantly, and as will also be seen, the very same features of the present invention which promote and accommodate proper lateral self-load- balancing to deal, for example, with the different specific ways in which different wearer's choose to position helmets on their heads, also deal with the successful accommodation of auxiliary headgear, such as the mentioned audio communication headset structure.
Conventional helmet systems, and especially the chin-strap cinching subsystems which are employed in such systems, present non-adaptable configurations at the lateral sides of a helmet with respect to the features of conventional chin-strap subsystems. This non-adaptability, and the adverse conditions which it creates, are particularly experienced near the lower perimeter portions of a wearer's ears where such non-adaptability creates unacceptable spatial- interference conflicts with auxiliary equipment, such as with the earphone units in communication audio headsets. Such conflicts lead to significant, and potentially
uncomfortable, not to mention dangerous, wearing conditions for a wearer such as a soldier.
Thus, in prior art structures there is, effectively, an interference-space conflict which typically exists between the space occupied by a simultaneously worn helmet system and a headset. Very specifically, conventional lateral strap components which form parts of a typical chin-strap cinching subsystem in an overall helmet system are so constructed with "rigidified" positions relative to a helmet shell, that they effectively nearly always overlie lower perimeter regions of a wearer's ears, and do so in a manner which interferes with easy, comfortable and safe wearing of a headset along with a helmet load-cushioning system.
The present invention significantly addresses these prior art "interference" problems, and as will be seen, does so in a practical, simple and inexpensive manner. Fundamentally, the invention proposes a unique chin-strap cinching subsystem, wherein opposite-side, flexible, lateral strap-elements carry a chin-engaging component in a relatively freely-slidable fashion which allows the lateral strap elements to clear the lower perimeter regions of a wearer's ears. This ear-perimeter accommodation allows, as an important consequence, for the easy co-wearing of a headset in a manner which does not compromise desirable lateral load-balancing with respect to the way in which an associated helmet sits on a wearer's head. In fact, the slidability just described tends uniquely to enhance the capability of the chin-strap cinching subsystem of this invention to enable and accommodate self-seeking, lateral- load-balancing with respect to a wearer's head. The system of the invention does this even in the context of the cooperative use, in the shell of a helmet, of a load-pad cushioning system of the type described in the above referenced '099 patent, which
cushioning system allows a wearer freely to remove, adjust and reposition the locations of load-cushioning pads inside the shell of a helmet.
The various important features and advantages of the present invention, some of which have just been mentioned, will become more fully apparent as the detailed description which now follows is read in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.
Description of the Drawings
Fig. 1 is an isometric view illustrating a conventional military helmet assembly in a condition being worn by a soldier. In this view the lateral "interference" problem (adjacent the wearer's ears), and as generally outlined above, is clearly evident.
Fig 2 is similar to Fig. 1, except that this figure shows a military helmet possessing a chin-strap cinching subsystem which has been made and mounted in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. Here, one can observe the significant lateral clearance which is provided around the lower perimeter portions of a wearer's ears.
Fig. 3 illustrates the worn helmet assembly of Fig 2 in a situation where an audio communication headset is also being worn by a soldier.
Fig 4 is a bottom elevation looking into the underside of the helmet system per se of Figs 2 and 3, and showing the various details of construction of the structure of the present invention.
Fig. 5 is similar to Fig.2, except that it illustrates a modified form of the invention employed with a shortened, helmet-shell-internal, rear-sector suspension structure (shown fragmentarily in dashed lines), like that mentioned earlier herein, to
provide extra lateral and vertical clearance for especially bulky earphone units (such as the earphone unit pictured fragmentarily in dash-dot lines in this figure).
Detailed Description of the Invention
Turning attention now to the drawings, and beginning with Fig. 1, as was mentioned above, this figure illustrates the prior art interference and lateral load- balancing issues which exist in an overall helmet assembly employing a chin-strap cinching subsystem 6 of conventional design and mounting. One can clearly observe in Fig. 1 how lateral strap elements 8a, 8b, 8c which form part of the illustrated, conventional chin-strap cinching subsystem 8, nominally directly overlie lower perimeter portions 10 of a wearer's ear - a condition which means that these straps are so positioned that they will definitively interfere with positioning of the lateral earphone units of any headset (not shown) which might also be worn by the user pictured in Fig. 1. Such interference is a direct result of the "typical" design of the illustrated, conventional chin-strap cinching subsystem, wherein one can see that, as a practical matter, the relative positions of the lateral strap elements, and of the portion 8d of the cinching subsystem which engages the chin, are effectively "rigidified" - a condition effectively assuring both headset interference, and lateral load imbalance, in all but one, or only a very few, wearing dispositions.
Looking now at Figs. 2-4, inclusive, wherein Fig. 4 isolates and individuates a helmet and the incorporated structure of the present invention in a manner useful for seeing structural details of the invention, indicated generally at 20 is a military helmet having a shell 20a inside of which is suitably anchored (in this particular embodiment of the invention) an all-around suspension, or suspension frame, 22 which is made herein is accordance with the teachings of above-referred-to. prior-issued U.S. Patent No. 6,681, 409 B2. As will be more fully developed shortly, shell 20a, via suspension
frame 22, is equipped with a self-load-balancing, self-adjusting, load-balancing chin- strap cinching subsystem 24 which is constructed in accordance with a preferred and best mode embodiment of the present invention.
Suspension 22, in general terms, includes a wrap-around, elongate band 22a which is directly and appropriately anchored to the inside of shell 20a, with this band suitably carrying a pair of forward, lateral, chin-strap lateral-element attaching structures, or devices, 26 which, as illustrated in the figures herein, take the form of conventional, strap-attaching D-rings. These D-rings, while conventional per se in their individual construction, as incorporated herein in the context of the practice and behavior of the present invention, play a special role in the functional performance of the particular embodiment of the invention now being described. They do this, as will become more fully apparent, by furnishing relative-motion, lateral sliding, pivotal- style mountings/connections for the forward ends of lateral strap elements employed in the chin-strap subsystem of the invention. Also suitably carried on band 22a, near the rear of helmet shell 20a, are two lateral-element rear end attaching devices generally shown at 28. Devices 28 are also per se conventional in design, and are configured to accommodate quick-release attaching of the rear ends of the mentioned chin-strap subsystem lateral elements. These devices 28 receive the rear ends of such lateral elements in a manner which allows for adjustable, "pull/relax" tightening and loosening of such lateral-element rear ends so as to enable the establishing and releasing of desired tension in the associated lateral elements of subsystem 24. Cinching and loosening, effectively, of the chin-strap subsystem herein is especially simplified and enabled by the employment of devices 28. Uniquely, merely by pulling on and loosening the two, rear, chin-strap-subsystem lateral strap element ends which connect with these
devices (28), all major chin-strap subsystem adjustments, including lateral load balancing relative to other components installed in helmet 20, are accomplished. Attaching devices 28 are also referred to herein as puU-to-cinch-and-tighten, friction- action mountings. Chin-strap cinching subsystem 24, along with attaching devices 26, 28, collectively form the helmet strap system of the present invention.
Additionally, suspension band 22a carries an appropriate distribution (six herein) of one of the two, usual "operative parts" of conventional hook-and-pile fastening elements 30 (see the dashed lines in Fig. 4). It is to these fastening elements that plural (also six herein, referred to as a "collection") acceleration-rate-sensitive, head-engaging, load-cushioning pads 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42 are removably, changeably, and repositionably attachable inside helmet shell 20a. In additional to these just-mentioned six cushioning pads, also installed in helmet shell 20a are two overhead cushioning pads which are shown at 43 in Fig. 4. These overhead pads, which are also adjustably and removably attached through conventional hook-and-pile fastening structure, are preferably also made in accordance with the teachings of the above-referenced '099 U.S. Patent. The outer surfaces of all of these load-cushioning pads are appropriately provided either with a fabric which is constructed to co-act directly with hook-and-pile fastening elements, such as elements 30, or are prepared with attached patches of material which will perform this attachment function.
In Fig. 4, the eight illustrated cushioning pads are shown positioned in what may be considered to be a special manner for accommodating the co-wearing of an audio communication headset, and this special arrangement is one wherein the overhead pads inside helmet shell 20a have been arranged to furnish an accommodation pathway, or lateral clearance path, 41 which extends somewhat as a
laterally extending, arcuate channel inside the helmet shell disposed over the inner top thereof to afford pre-clearance for accommodating the usual headband portion of a conventional audio headset. The overhead pads may also be selectively repositioned to abut one another (not specifically shown) to close path 41, and create, effectively, a "singular" overhead pad cushioning structure.
Chin-strap subsystem 24 includes an elongate, transverse chin-strap element, or chin-engaging component, 46, and a pair of elongate, lateral strap elements, or straps, 48, 50 (generally mentioned above). Component 46 is formed with a stitched- together pair of sub-straps clearly shown at 52, 54, with the longer one (52) of these two sub-straps, adjacent its opposite ends, being folded in reverse-bend loops 52a which generally freely and slideably receive central, elongate portions 48a, 50a in lateral straps 48, 50, respectively. The interfaces between loops 52a and strap portions 48a, 50a are referred to herein as relative-motion sliding interfaces. The term "relative motion" as used herein refers to "whole body" relative motion. This means that each of the two "relative-motion" components can move as a whole with respect to the other component. Loops 52a herein are alike, and are held closed by appropriate releasable snaps 56. Portions 48a, 50a are formed herein by folding and stitching lengths of straps 48, 50, respectively, around, essentially, the long axes (not shown) of these straps. If desired, the inside surfaces of loops 52a may be equipped with a modest frictioning material whereby, when the chin-strap subsystem is cinched to tightness, the tendency of these loops to engage in relative sliding motion is minimized. Such a feature may be useful under certain circumstances to stabilize the components in the chin-strap subsystem in properly cinched positions with respect to a particular wearer's head.
The arrangement of substantially free, slideable connections/interconnections and resulting adjustability between chin-strap component 46 and lateral straps 48, 50 results in component 46 effectively "floating relatively freely" on and along portions 48a, 50a in the lateral straps. A significant consequence of this unique arrangement is that the opposite ends of component 46 are not, during initial fitting of helmet 20 in place, committed, locked, and rigidified, in effect, to predetermined fixed locations along the lateral chin-strap elements. As will seen, it is this important feature of applicant's invention which both allows the unique chin-strap subsystem of this invention to promote self-seeking lateral load balancing when a helmet is cinched into place on a wearer's head, and also provides for clearance and non-interfering accommodation adjacent the lower perimeter portions 10 of a wearer's ears to allow for headset earphone-unit clearance. This can clearly be seen in Figs. 2 and 3 in the drawings.
In Fig. 2, no headset is being worn, and one can plainly see the ample lower clearance which is provided by lateral strap portion 50a for the lower portion 10 of the illustrated wearer's ear. In Fig. 3, a headset 58 having lateral earphone units, such as lateral earphone unit 58a, is shown being worn, with very ample non-interfering clearance being provided by lateral strap portion 50a. This clearance definitively allows for free (i.e., non-obstructed) sliding engagement to exist between lateral strap portion 50a, and a loop 52a in chin-engaging component 46, thus to allow for the feature of self-lateral-load-balancing mentioned earlier herein.
Completing a description of what is shown in Fig. 4, the front, or forward, ends of lateral straps 48, 50 are reverse-bend-looped, as shown at 48b, 50b, and through these loops, are freely slideably attached to the curved regions of D-rings 26.
This arrangement provides an important degree of self-adjusting adaptability for the whole chin-strap subsystem of the invention.
Directing attention now to Fig. 5 in the drawings, here, as was mentioned earlier, there is generally illustrated, using fragmentary dashed and dash-dot lines, a modified form of the invention in which a rear-sector, shortened, internal suspension frame, or suspension, 60 is employed and anchored suitably to the rear inside pf helmet shell 20a. The opposite ends of this suspension, such as end 60a seen in Fig 5, terminate "short" of the ears, and thus "short" of where a headset's earphone units, such as the earphone unit pictured fragmentarily in dash-dot lines at 62 in this figure, will reside when the subj ect headset is worn.
Where such an alternative form of suspension is employed, appropriate mounting locations for load-cushioning pads will be provided, as an illustration, directly against the inside of the helmet shell, per se.
In this embodiment of the invention, the forward ends of lateral straps 48, 50, such as the forward end 50b of lateral strap 50, are attached directly to helmet shell 20a atjhe sites of conventionally provided helmet-shell attaching hardware, such as the screw attaching hardware (pivotal-style attaching device) shown at 64 in Fig. 5. This attachment, in accordance with practice of the present invention, permits pivoting, or rocking, of the attached forward ends of the lateral straps, as indicated by double-headed curved arrow 66 for attached strap end 50b in Fig 5. The "longitudinally folded" portions 48a, 50a of the lateral straps are appropriately extended (see portion 50a in Fig. 5) in proximity to forward ends 48b, 50b, respectively, so as to assure good peripheral visibility for the wearer.
Experience with the chin-strap subsystem of the present invention indicates that, no matter what turns out to be the specific organization, disposition, etc. of the
cushioning pads disposed inside a helmet shell, the various chin-strap elements will automatically "sense" that organization and disposition, and through relative sliding and angulating motions which are accommodated within the chin-strap subsystem, will self-adjust to establish a properly load-balanced condition, without requiring any special care or attention by the wearer.
When a helmet-20 wearer plans to use an audio communication headset in conjunction with wearing a helmet, the headband portion of such a headset will be given adequate clearance via passage 41 to pass over the head without in any way interfering with seating of any of the load-cushioning pads, and the headset earphone units at opposite sides of the headset will be afforded proper non-interfering lateral clearance by the lateral strap elements in the chin-strap subsystem of the invention because of the special construction described above for this subsystem. This condition of appropriate lateral non-interfering behavior is plainly pictured in Figs. 3 and 5. Moreover, one will observe that this lateral non-interference with headset earphone units will also result under circumstances where cinching and tightening of a helmet in place results in appropriate load balancing with respect to the various load- cushioning pads.
Thus, a preferred and best mode embodiment of a helmet strap system, and of an included chin-strap cinching subsystem employable in a helmet shell in accordance with practice of the present invention, has been disclosed and illustrated herein. Very clearly, this unique structure is relatively simple in organization, and inexpensive in construction, and quite evidently resolves the interference-problem issues that attend conventional helmet systems, particularly when auxiliary equipment, such an a audio headset, is worn at the same time with an overriding helmet. Uniquely, the interference problems of the prior art are resolved by features of the present invention,
which features also uniquely contribute to a quality and characteristic of self-seeking, self-adjusting lateral load balancing which takes place substantially automatically when a helmet strap system made in accordance with the invention is cinched, along with a helmet shell and load-cushioning pad system, into place on a wearer's head.
Accordingly, while a preferred and best mode embodiment of the invention has been described and illustrated herein, it will be clear to those generally skilled in the art that variations and modifications may be made without departing from the spirit of the invention, and it is intended that the claims to invention which now follow be read to encompass all such variations and modifications.
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