Last week, the U.S. Navy stood down its entire fleet of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers following an accident at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state. As a result, the bulk of the Navy’s strike fighter force was effectively out of action for almost four days.
The accident is the latest in a series of incidents that has been plaguing the Navy’s F/A-18 series fighters. While the Super Hornet is normally an extremely reliable aircraft, over the course of the last several years the F/A-18 and EA-18G fleets have experienced a spike in problems with their cabin life-support systems—particularly the On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS). Indeed, the F/A-18 fleet experienced 297 “physiological events” from May 2010 through October 2015, according to Navy documents.
The incident on Friday—where an EA-18G from VAQ-132 experienced an “on-deck emergency”—appears to be another event where the cabin life-support systems played a role. During the accident, the Growler “was damaged and both aircrew sustained injuries and were transported by a NAS Whidbey Island SAR helicopter to Harborview Medical Center for evaluation” according to a Navy statement.
After the accident, Naval Air Force immediately issued an order to suspend all F/A-18E/F and EA-18G flight operations “with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis dependent upon operational requirements.”
According to U.S. Navy sources, while the accident is still under investigation, it appears that the EA-18G suffered from severe cockpit over-pressurization. As it was described, the canopy failed after a particular safety valve—which would have relieved the pressure—failed to operate correctly. The Navy is in the process of implementing procedural fixes to address the most immediate issues in an effort ensure that such an accident doesn’t happen again. (end of excerpt)
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