The US Navy is expected to resume flight operations of T-45C early next week using a modified mask.
The aircraft has been tested by Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) using a modified mask that circumvents the aircraft's On Board Oxygen Generator System (OBOGS). Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF), announced April 15 that the operational pause for the T-45C will be lifted on Monday, April 17, US Naval Air Forces Public Affairs reported Tuesday.
The US Navy had grounded its fleet of T-45 trainer jets earlier this month following instructor pilots’ refusal to fly, raising concerns about the oxygen systems' efficiency as the aviators are experiencing light-headedness and blackouts.
Initially, instructor pilots will conduct warm-up flights, after which they will brief the remaining pilots and students in their squadrons on use of the modified equipment. As the week progresses all instructor pilots will complete their warm-up flights, followed by warmups and training flights for student pilots.
"After briefings and discussions with our aircrew, their training wing leadership, the engineers, and aeromedical experts, we have identified a way forward to resume flight operations safely by limiting the maximum cabin altitude to below 10,000 feet in order be able to operate without using the OBOGS system," Shoemaker explained.
"We will be able to complete 75 percent of the syllabus flights with the modified masks while we continue the important engineering testing and analysis at PAX River [Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland] to identify the root cause of the problem. This will remain our top safety priority until we fully understand all causal factors and have identified a solution that will further reduce the risks to our aircrew."
Finding the root cause is a challenge on this complex, highly sophisticated platform. "We have energized the force, are working with outside agencies, and established an Integrated Project Team (IPT) at NAVAIR, along with an aeromedical crisis action team of flight surgeons, physiologists and toxicologists. All teams are immersed in this effort and working with the same sense of urgency to solve our physiological episodes across the fleet," Shoemaker said.
In addition to the IPT and aeromedical crisis action team, the congressionally mandated Independent Review Team (sourced from NASA) recently visited Naval Air Station Meridian as part of an ongoing independent review of physiological episodes.