WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Seapower, which has jurisdiction over the Navy and naval aviation, today issued an update on efforts to fix safety issues with the oxygen systems on T-45 naval training jets. Some pilots operating these particular jets have experienced physiological episodes (PE), such as losing oxygen, breathing contaminated oxygen, or undergoing cockpit decompression.
“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 into law a proposal authored by Wicker 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 – similar to the X Prize – to incentivize the brightest minds in academia and industry to help find the root cause or causes of PE. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer endorsed the idea during his confirmation hearing in July.
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.
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.
Senator Roger Wicker Press Release