Air Force team investigating causes for in-flight oxygen deprivation

A pilot assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron taxis an F-35 Lightning II at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Oct. 30, 2017. The Air Force announced that a new general officer-led team will integrate and coordinate efforts to address aircrew Unexplained Physiologic Events such as hypoxia.


By WILLIAM HOWARD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 23, 2018

The Air Force has set up a general officer-led team to investigate the rising incidence of in-flight oxygen deprivation and other conditions that forced the grounding of several jets last year.

The team will look at so-called unexplained physiologic events that pilots experience, including oxygen deprivation, disorientation and low carbon dioxide levels in the blood, the service said in a statement Monday. The Air Force did not specify a deadline for possible recommendations.

“As part of the integrated effort to address physiological events, the Air Force is providing more resources to understand UPEs, standardize response actions to such events and assess options for more robust aircrew training to recognize and respond to these events,” Doorenbos said in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to prevent UPEs.”

Last year, 55 F-35A Lightning II jets were grounded for nearly two weeks at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after pilots experienced oxygen deprivation symptoms during flight.

The Navy, too, has reported an increase in similar events. In December, a NASA review identified oxygen system failures in F/A-18 Hornets as the cause of four pilot deaths that occurred over a span of 10 years. That investigation found that failures in the Hornets increased from 57 in 2012 to 125 in 2016.

Officials couldn’t determine what caused the episodes at the time of groundings at Luke Air Force Base, the Air Force said last year. “Specific concerns were eliminated as possible causes, including maintenance and aircrew flight equipment procedures,” according to a statement.

The F-35A pilots were instructed to avoid altitudes where the oxygen systems failures took place and increased the minimum levels for backup oxygen systems on each flight.

In early January, Aviation Week reported that 28 A-10 Warthogs at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., were grounded in November after two pilots experienced in-flight physiological episodes, resulting in hypoxia-like symptoms.

After a week of investigations, an underlying cause for the oxygen system malfunctions couldn’t be determined and the A-10s returned to regular operations, Aviation Week reported.

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An F-35 Lightning II streaks across the sky while doing maneuvers over the Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., runway.

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