Training flights involving the T-45 Goshawk are resuming aboard NAS Pensacola and elsewhere, after being grounded over concerns about their oxygen systems.
There is this caveat: the flights must remain below 10,000 feet in altitude, where the oxygen system isn’t needed. Normally, T-45 pilots train at altitudes of about 14,000 feet. Air crew will also wear a modified mask that circumvents the On Board Oxygen Generator System (OBOGS).
“I’m deeply concerned for the safety of our pilots, and for our community,” said Cong. Matt Gaetz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “What I was most troubled by were the descriptions of pilots of the symptoms: the symptoms of this unique form of hypoxia were immediate and debilitating.”
Another pilot told Gaetz that he was affected by the malfunction but his co-pilot was not – and that’s probably what saved their lives, with the co-pilot landing the plane. Gaetz on Monday sent a letter to the Navy, requesting an update on the diagnostic testing now underway, saying in part that every corner of the federal government should be involved.
“We shouldn’t have just the smartest minds in the Navy working on this, we should have every chemist, toxicologist, engineer at our disposal,” said Gaetz. “Because we will be in a state of elevated risk that is not tolerable until we accurately diagnose the challenges with the T-45.”
Part of the work now is studying the findings of the Air Force, which faced a similar problem with its F-22 aircraft. Besides the T-45, the Navy has other challenges in the F-18 -- the backbone of naval aviation.
“In the F-18 there are cabin pressurization issues that are not present in the T-45, and were actively engaged in that diagnosis now,” Gaetz said. The F-22 had this problem, and the Air Force were able to ascertain 13 different problems.”
In a written statement Rear Adm. Mike Shoemaker -- Naval Air Forces Commander – said pilots will be able to complete 75% of training flights at the lower altitude with the modified masks.
Meanwhile, engineering testing and analysis on the T-45 continue at PAX River Naval Air Station, Maryland.