Now Cockpit Oxygen Problems Are Endangering Navy Pilots Downrange

news

Fighter and attack squadrons on two U.S. aircraft carriers — one engaged in operations against ISIS, the other on station in the restive West Pacific — have resorted to extraordinary measures to keep their pilots safe from persistent oxygen-supply problems in the Navy’s go-to carrier aircraft, the F-18 Hornet.


Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf, Military.com’s Hope Hedge-Seck reports that the Bush and USS Carl Vinson both deployed in January with hyperbaric chambers, “slam sticks,” and even store-bought Garmin wristwatches to ward off the widespread oxygen problems which have plagued the fleet’s jet trainer aircraft, the F/A-18E and F Super Hornet variants, and the related E/A-18 Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

The Bush has already had to use its hyperbaric chamber twice to treat pilots “who experience[d] hypoxia-like symptoms in the cockpit,” reports Seck: once in February, when a two-person Growler crew experienced “an ‘abnormality’ with the aircraft's environmental control system,” and again in April, when a solo F/A-18 pilot became disoriented shortly after takeoff.

Both aircraft trapped safely on the deck, and the pilots recovered fully after pressure treatment in the chamber, according to Capt. James McCall, CO of the Bush’s Carrier Air Wing 8.

The chambers were installed on both carriers as the result of “a dialogue from aviators in squadrons right to the three-star level,” McCall said. Navy-wide, that dialogue has proven testy: Aviators in the service’s go-to training aircraft, the T-45 Goshawk, went on strike in April to protest problems with the aircraft’s environmental control systems that can cause disorienting oxygen shortness and even death.

But more remarkable than the presence of hyperbaric chambers are the other DIY fail-safes that squadrons have fashioned to avoid oxygen problems on 10-hour sorties over Iraq and Syria, Hedge-Seck reports:

McCall said the carrier was the first to deploy its fighters equipped with "slam sticks," small devices that measure cockpit air pressure and other factors, and can provide diagnostics following a mission...

Another measure, designed to help pilots detect cockpit problems before they can physically feel them, is a true improvisation: the wearing of commercially available Garmin watches, equipped with altimeters and barometric sensors, that can be set to sound alarms when certain thresholds are reached.

"Some of our aircrew had Garmin watches that they had bought, watches with little altimeters on them," McCall said. "I think somebody was just like, 'Hey, this would make sense.' And so we offered up discussions with one of my [commanding officers] and myself, and we said, 'Let's pitch this up the chain of command.' "

Congressional testimony in March revealed that the Hornet and Growler platforms have experienced more than 400 critical incidents in recent years, chiefly oxygen-supply and cabin-pressure issues.

In response, the Navy is currently conducting a monthlong review of all the issues on F-18 and T-45 aircraft and has deployed “an Aero-Medical Crisis Action Team (A-CAT) consisting of flight doctors, physiologists, toxicologists, engineers and specialists” to tackle the problems, according to Aviation International News.

That report added that the Air Force — which experienced similar hypoxia issues in its F-22 Raptor, linked to at least one pilot fatality — “has offered to provide the Navy with an in-line air quality sensor previously approved for use on the F-16 Fighting Falcon.”

U.S. Navy file photo

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

Read More Show Less