Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The IPs Revolt

When you can't breath, nothing else matters.

Take your stereotypical Naval Aviator; cocky, aggressive, devil-may-care, hour-hounding etc, etc ... now double it.

That is your standard issue Navy Instructor Pilot. More often than not, the top pilots coming out of their first tour go on to some kind of billet as an Instructor Pilot at their FRS or a VT squadron.

Keep that in mind.

Via Lucas Tomlinson, the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News, this is something.
More than 100 U.S. Navy instructor pilots are refusing to fly in protest of what they say is the refusal of top brass to adequately address an urgent problem with training jets’ oxygen system, multiple instructor pilots tell Fox News.

The boycott started late last week and has effectively grounded hundreds of training flights.

“The pilots don’t feel safe flying this aircraft,” one instructor pilot told Fox News.

Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, head of naval aviation, told Fox News in an exclusive interview that the training jet issue is the “number one safety priority” across naval aviation right now.

“Right now we don't have the smoking gun,” he cautioned.
In the last five years, physiological episodes, caused in part by problems with the oxygen system, have nearly quadrupled on the T-45 training jet,

Last week, a student from training squadron VT-86 in Pensacola, Fla., had to be “dragged out” of his jet because he became “incapacitated” from the faulty oxygen system, according to two flight instructors.

In March, a British exchange instructor pilot with thousands of hours in the cockpit had to conduct an emergency landing during a training flight near Meridian, Miss., after both he and his student experienced hypoxic symptoms.

In August, a flight instructor and his student were forced to eject near Kingsville, Texas, when they felt symptoms of hypoxia, crashing the multi-million dollar jet.  Both pilots ejected safely and were not seriously injured.

Last month, there were 10 episodes in T-45s, according to Shoemaker.

Anticipating the pilot protest, the Navy sent a team of engineers and other specialists this week to its T-45 training bases in Kingsville, Meridian and Pensacola for talks with the pilots.

A meeting Tuesday in Meridian “got heated,” Fox News is told.  The pilots told the civilians from Navy Air Systems Command their complaints about the oxygen system were being ignored. When a senior Navy pilot showed photos of a faulty oxygen system he claimed had been sent up to NAVAIR’s headquarters in Maryland, the engineers said they never received the photos.

Navy spokeswoman Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld acknowledged that 40 percent of instructor pilots refused to fly their training flights Friday. A flight instructor said the number was closer to 75 percent, because the Navy reduced the flight schedule knowing more than half the pilots would refuse to fly.

Shoemaker said following a meeting in Kingsville, flights there had resumed.  
Navy IPs are not drama mamas. They are not type-B personalities who look for excuses not to fly. They do not make stuff up except for liberty stories.

...and JOPA ain't changed;

I don't think this is a helpful response;
“We have been working this for five, six years now to try to get to the bottom of this,” one official said.

Both officials acknowledged “communication problems” between the upper echelon of the Navy and the instructors.

Six months ago, the Navy sent the T-45 and other jet squadrons Sorbent tubes to measure the air the pilots were breathing. After each flight, the tubes were sent to a lab in Maryland for analysis. After 1,500 flights worth of air samples, the results remain inconclusive.

“We haven’t come up with anything conclusive … showing a contaminant or something like that,” a senior official said.

The instructor pilots see it differently.

“They sent our squadron six tubes,” one pilot said. “That’s part of the frustration. They are doing the absolute minimum.”
A longer period of time than it took to develop the atomic bomb. Longer to fight WWII.

And yet ...
The dangers with the oxygen system are not limited to the T-45 training jets either. U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets have been known to suffer similar problems.
As was stated earlier, this is not a new problem. Bad on me, Meghann Myers at NavyTimes wrote about this 11 months ago;
"There’s only one thing that scares the s--- out of guys that fly the airplane, and it’s OBOGS," the pilot said in an interview.

That day in Nevada, the pilot and the NFO pulled out their backup oxygen bottles, landed the plane and met with the squadron's safety officer to file a report. It turned out, the pilot said, that the jet's OBOGS had stopped producing oxygen. What's more, he added, the filtering material inside the system had just been cleaned and it was the jet's first flight with a fresh oxygen generator.

That was back in 2007, when aviators reported annually a dozen or so reports of physiological episodes — the technical term for the effects when a plane stops producing oxygen, pumps a toxin into the cockpit or loses pressurization.

The rates were troubling. In 2010, Navy aviation pushed to get pilots and aircrew to report every time they thought they'd had an episode. And NAVAIR engineers focused on how to improve OBOGS and the environmental control system — the pieces of the airplane that keep clean, dry air circulating.

Navy officials say it's progress that more fliers are recognizing and reporting physiological episodes. They say the causes of these distressing incidents are varied across the air systems' dozens of components, many of which have been modified and are now being more regularly checked. Meanwhile, engineers work to develop sensors that detect air contamination and low oxygen levels.

The Navy's air warfare director summed up the dilemma in a tense exchange during a February hearing.

"It’s like chasing a ghost," said Rear Adm. Mike "Nasty" Manazir, a career Navy pilot. "You can’t figure it out, because the monitoring devices that do this are not on the airplane."
The air flow issues have bedeviled the Navy and Marine Corps' fleet of F/A-18 Hornets, EA-18G Growlers and T-45C Goshawk trainers, all of which use the OBOGS. In the case of air contamination, there are no warning systems to alert the aviators breathing disorienting and potentially deadly gases. Complicating the assessment of the breadth of the incidents is the general reluctance of pilots to report what seem to be physiological problems, which can remove their flight status.

Meanwhile, the reported number of events is skyrocketing. Aviators reported 15 physiological episodes in 2009, concentrated in strike aircraft and the trainer jets that aviators learn on, according to Naval Safety Center data.

By 2015, the fleet reported an eight-fold increase to 115 episodes: 31 in the T-45C Goshawk trainer and 41 in Hornet variants, plus 19 in the EA-18G Growler. The Marines also reported a spike that year, including hypoxia and OBOGS failure in the brand new F-35B joint strike fighters and seven more events involving its legacy Hornets, as the F/A-18 A through D variants are known.
"I’ve been flying Navy airplanes since 1982 on oxygen," testified Manazir. "I commanded an F-14 squadron that had OBOGS back in 1998. I have two cruises on that system and I have four cruises on the Super Hornet. I’ve never experienced a hypoxic event."

If the Navy were concerned about the safety of the jets, he added, they would ground the fleet.

But inside ready rooms, his comments landed like a ton of bricks.

"We have definitely upped the reporting since 2010 and it is a huge issue for us," the East Coast pilot said. "In my opinion, the admiral is just lucky that he has never had an incident."

The West Coast pilot shared that disappointment.

"I have a concern. I have a huge concern. Lots of guys have concerns. That’s the perfect time to go, 'We have a problem and we need the funding to get it fixed,' " he said. "If that’s for a media comment, then I get it. But if that’s what he’s really thinking, then I’m disappointed."

The pilot also pointed out that Manazir's timeline suggests his first 16 years flying were with liquid oxygen pumping into his mask, a system which OBOGS replaced.

"I would say, go to his log book and take all of the LOX flights out of there, and those numbers are going to come way down," he said. "We’ve got guys who have never been hypoxic, and guys who have been multiple times."
Her article goes in a to a lot of detail on the OBOGS. Read it all.

I can't get over on how long we are taking to solve this problem. BZ to the IPs for keeping up the pressure.

So, how long would it take and how much money to either convert back to LOX until we ID the problem or fix it like the USAF did with the F-22? Is either an option? 

If not, what is Plan C?

Or are we going to play management for Convair and McDonald-Douglas to Dan Applegate's memo? Just put a price on dead Naval Aviators and figure that is cheaper than fixing a hard problem?

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