WASHINGTON --- The US Navy has linked the deaths of four F/A-18 Hornet pilots to “physiological episodes” that occurred while the aircraft was airborne, according to an in-depth review of oxygen system failures that are plaguing the service’s primary fighter jet and T-45 training aircraft.
Released on Thursday, the Navy report details findings of an investigation that was launched in March after more than 100 T-45 instructional pilots refused to fly in protest at continuing issues with the aircraft’s oxygen system.
That protest occurred just days after Navy officials described a rising rate of “physiological episodes” (PEs) affecting pilots who fly all models of F-18 aircraft, especially the Boeing-built Super Hornet, during testimony on Capitol Hill.
Pilots reported that physiological episodes resulting in dizzyness or even blackouts have been caused by oxygen contamination, human factors — including air sickness and vertigo, failure of the on-board oxygen generation system and the failure of other key systems — according to March testimony from Rear Adm. Michael Moran.
According to the Navy, the four F-18 pilot deaths, which occurred over a span of 10 years, are not all the direct result an oxygen system failure but are linked by the fact that pilots experienced various symptoms that fall within the scope of what is described as a physiological episode.
Although FA-18 aircrews have experienced PEs attributed to breathing air problems, the majority of recent serious incidents have been attributed to issues related to the aircraft’s environmental control system, which supports air quality in the cockpit and cabin pressurization malfunctions, according to the report.
Physiological episodes in T-45 pilots have not led to a fatality, according to the report but a recent spike in symptoms reported by training pilots mirrors the troubling trend observed among F/A-18 Hornet pilots.
Investigators have documented a steady rise of reports of physiological episodes among T-45 and F/A-18 pilots since 2012. T-45 incidents rose from 13 in 2012 to 38 in 2016 while reports among F-18 pilots increased from 57 in 2012 to 114 in 2016.
F-18 pilots have already reported 52 incidents to date in 2017. (end of excerpt)
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