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Senator Wicker says fix is coming for training jet safety concerns

photo courtesy Office of Roger Wicker, screenshot taken from video of Wicker on Senate floor, 7/28/2017

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Seapower, issued an update on efforts to fix safety issues with the oxygen systems on T-45 naval training jets. This update comes after some pilots operating the jets experienced physiological episodes (PE), such as losing oxygen, breathing contaminated oxygen, or undergoing cockpit decompression. Wicker says that a fix for the issue is on its way.

“Responding to congressional directives, the Navy is working diligently to identify the root causes, and mitigate the effects, of the physiological episodes on our pilots,” Wicker said. “Every T-45 jet should be now equipped with a new oxygen-level monitoring system by February. Combined with other recent upgrades, this step should help alert pilots to dangerous declines in oxygen production or pressure levels. The Navy has also grounded any T-45 lacking the full collection of modifications. In addition, the Navy is developing a new automatic backup oxygen system scheduled for future installation across the T-45 fleet.”

On Tuesday, President Trump signed a proposal authored by Wicker into law. The law aims to help military officials identify the cause of these physiological episodes. The plan would authorize the Secretary of Defense to offer a $10 million prize to incentivize those with extensive knowledge on the problem to help find the root cause or causes of PE.

Efforts to make the jets safer has been ongoing. In April, Wicker conducted a field hearing with Navy officials and pilots stationed at the Naval Air Station in Meridian to discuss safety issues with the T-45 training jets used at the base. Wicker also met with Navy personnel in his Washington office following reports that some Navy instructor pilots were exercising their right to opt out of training flights because of these potential safety issues.

As research continues, Wicker and others are gaining new insight into what may be causing the problem. Although contaminated oxygen was initially thought to be the major cause of PE in T-45s, testing has revealed that insufficient air flow is the biggest contributing factor.  In other words, PE in T-45s is primarily an “air quantity” issue rather than an “air quality” issue. Naval officials are working to ensure a steady flow of breathing air to the cockpit, as well as giving pilots timely and accurate alerts.

T-45 training jets are used at the Naval Air Stations based in Meridian, Miss., Pensacola, Fla., and Kingsville, Texas.


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