The United States Air Force and Navy appear to be closing in on a partial solution to a complicated set of problems that have for years caused pilots to experience adverse physiological symptoms midair, endangering them and the aircraft. Officials from both services said that by early 2019 they will replace faulty oxygen-supply systems with new hardware and software in their T-6 Texan trainer aircraft.
They are also continuing to study how pilots in their trainer and combat aircraft are being affected by hypoxia — a physiological condition caused by low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream that can lead to a lack of concentration and muscle control, inability to perform delicate tasks and ultimately loss of consciousness.
Oxygen-deprivation and cockpit-pressurization problems have afflicted trainer and top-line aircraft in the Navy and the Air Force — including the F-22 Raptor, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the A-10 Thunderbolt, the T-45 Goshawk trainer and F/A-18 Hornet — for at least a decade. Until recently, the source of these episodes mystified military officials.
Because so many different aircraft were affected, the services didn’t think they were being caused by one specific problem. In his testimony to the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee in February, Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, said that “there is no single root cause tied to a manufacturing or design defect that would explain multiple physiological event incidents across airframes or within a specific airframe.”
Lawmakers, frustrated with the lack of progress made by the services, criticized Nowland for his remarks. “I could not be more disappointed by your presentation,” said Representative Michael R. Turner, an Ohio Republican and the subcommittee chairman. “There is something wrong with the systems that these pilots are relying on for their lives.” Many junior pilots, meanwhile, felt that their leaders were ignoring or playing down the episodes, because they couldn’t replicate the problem or find an easy fix. (end of excerpt)
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