With the development of new concepts and principles over the past century, helmet-mounted displays (HMDs) have been widely applied. This paper presents a review of avionic HMDs and shows some areas of active and intensive research. This review is focused on the optical design aspects and is divided into three sections to explore new optical design methods, which include an off-axis design, design with freeform optical surface, and design with holographic optical waveguide technology. Building on the fundamentals of optical design and engineering, the principles section primarily expounds on the five optical system parameters, which include weight, field of view, modulation transfer function, exit pupil size, and eye relief. We summarized the previous design works using new components to achieve compact and lightweight HMDs. Moreover, the paper presents a partial summary of the more notable experimental, prototype, fielded, and future HMD fixed-wing and rotary-wing programs.