VADM Mike Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces, has extended the three-day grounding imposed last week on the Navy’s fleet of T-45 Goshawk fast jet training aircraft. The grounding came about amid reports from pilots of oxygen starvation in the cockpit, leading to hypoxia. Pilots raised concerns about safety and the risks associated with physiological episodes (PEs) being caused by the oxygen breathing system in the T-45C.
The Navy implemented an operational pause for its T-45C fleet on April 5. In a statement released following a visit to NAS Meridien, Kingsville and Pensacola, VADM Shoemaker released a statement:
‘It was important for me to hear directly from the pilots and share with them all the ongoing efforts to tackle this problem. I have been tracking these events in both the T-45 and F/A-18 fleets, but a recent spike in T-45 events was cause for the Operational Risk Management (ORM) pause the pilots initiated and my directed operational pause that followed.
‘Although we have taken an ‘unconstrained resources’ approach to this problem, meaning we are dedicating our best people to find solutions and allocating necessary money toward mitigation measures despite current fiscal constraints, we are still seeing a rise in these events.
As I have shared before in messages to the force, I am fully prepared to limit or curtail flight operations if our fleet leadership team determines the risk to our aircrew cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level. After frank discussions with the aircrew, leadership staffs and engineers, I will extend the operational pause for at least a week to allow time for our engineers to do a deeper dive into T-45 systems and for leadership to determine additional mitigation measures that will reduce the risks associated with the T-45 oxygen breathing system.’
‘We are seeking input from the pilots and they have shared some innovative ideas that we are evaluating as possible paths forward as we continue to identify the root causes of the PEs. During the calls, I reinforced the importance of the ORM process, and acknowledged the instructors’ concerns and the use of that tool as the mechanism for last Friday’s pause.’
Testing has been carried out on the T-45’s On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) and finding a solution is said to be a top priority.