NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. --- The U.S. Air Force is making changes to F-35 flight equipment to make breathing easier for pilots, as the Pentagon continues searching for a root cause of five hypoxia-like cockpit incidents in the new fighter at an Arizona Air Force base this summer.
First, the Air Force reduced the weight of the F-35 flight vest by about 10 lb. by eliminating “redundant” survival equipment, Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, commander of the 56h Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Arizona, told Aviation Week in a Sept. 18 interview at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber conference here. The vest originally weighed about 15-17 lb., so cutting survival equipment to a minimum reduced weight on a pilot’s chest significantly, he said.
“When you step out to the jet in 110-degree weather you absolutely feel [the change], and then under Gs you feel it as well,” Leonard said.
In addition, the team found that some masks had faulty exhalation valves, which caused the valve to “stick” during exhalation. This made exhaling much more difficult, Leonard said.
The Air Force has replaced all of the pilots’ exhalation valves, and instituted extra pre- and post-flight procedures to make sure each valve is operating correctly, Leonard said.
The Air Force also has asked the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) to install a cotton ring around the valve to avoid any moisture buildup—for instance, sweat—that might be causing the valve to stick. In addition, the team is looking at possibly redesigning other components with different materials to prevent the problem in future, Leonard said. (end of excerpt)
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: The operative word for this story is in the lead paragraph: “….the Pentagon continues searching for a root cause…”
Nonetheless, flight restrictions enacted at the time have been lifted.)