Navy Expects to Resume Full T-45 Training Syllabus by End of Summer
By RICHARD R. Burgess, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy plans to resume training student aviators in the T-45 Goshawk jet by the end of June and resume their full syllabus by the end of summer, a senior Navy admiral said. Training flights in the T-45 were suspended in April after a series of physiological episodes (PEs) involving hypoxia affecting the pilots.
“Our instructors are flying the [T-45] today with a new mask configuration,” Vice Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, told reporters June 15 in a teleconference from the Pentagon on the results of a comprehensive review of airborne PEs in the T-45 and F/A-18 jet aircraft in the last half year. “We’ve had 300 delivered, they’re out in the training command, the instructors are doing warm-up flights and using that mask before we put students [back] in the airplane and be sure that they understand procedures and how to operate it.
“We expect to get our student pilots back in the airplane for warm-up flights sometime in the next couple of weeks,” Moran said. “As more airplanes are modified with water separators, bleed-air shutoff valves [and other modifications to the onboard oxygen generation system], then we will be able to ramp up to full-syllabus hops near the end of the summer. We’re getting back in the air here very soon.”
Vice Adm. Paul A. Grosklags, testifying June 13 on the fiscal 2018 budget proposal before the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee, said the T-45 training suspension has been delaying about 25 student aviators per month.
“[By] the end of June, we will have racked up about 75 students that have been delayed going to the next squadron, which would be the fleet replacement squadron,” Grosklags said.
He said that instructor pilots have been flying currency flights in the T-45 up to altitudes of 5,000 feet above sea level — well below the 10,000-foot altitude at which supplemental oxygen is needed — and gravities of less than 2 gs.
The Navy has taken several T-45s to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., he said, “and we have torn some of them apart to the extent that we took every single component in that breathing gas path out of the aircraft, starting with the engine and going through the entire system, inspecting all the piping in between all the way up to the [pilot’s] mask and the vests that the aircrew wear.”
Grosklags also said the Navy has instrumented some of the problem T-45s to try to detect problems in real time, with no “smoking gun” to date.
Moran said the comprehensive review has not discovered the cause or causes of the PEs, but recommended a series of steps to reduce the risk of further PEs, as noted in a June 15 Navy release:
“■ Establish a single, dedicated organization to lead Naval PE resolution efforts. This temporary organization should be headed by a Naval Aviator Flag/General Officer, embrace the ‘unconstrained resource’ approach and fully incorporate all stakeholders.
■ Redesign aircraft systems to meet oxygen generation system technical requirements.
■ Execute a multi-faceted approach to improve ECS [environmental control system] reliability, particularly on the FA-18. This effort must address component reliability, system inspections and testing.
■ Embrace and resource a methodical PE root cause corrective action process for each aircraft under the single, dedicated organization tasked to lead PE efforts. Additionally, standardize and improve the PE investigation and adjudication process.
■ Establish an integrated life support system program at Naval Air Systems Command that, at a minimum, manages Naval Aviation oxygen generation and connecting systems; cabin environment and pressurization systems; and physiological monitoring. This program must regularly leverage the lessons of other organizations managing similar technologies.
■ Address PE reporting shortfalls, including physiological monitoring; aircrew alerting; and cockpit audio, video and habitability recording.”
The release also said the chief of naval air training billet will be assigned to a more senior admiral.
“Based on the findings of the report, the next chief of naval air training (CNATRA) will be a more experienced aviation flag officer,” the release said. “The increase in seniority is meant to improve flight safety, address current instructor concerns, and ultimately resume student training. Rear Adm. Jay Bynum, currently serving as commander, Carrier Strike Group Nine, and a two-star admiral select, is scheduled to assume command of CNATRA, later this month.”