One of America’s most important combat aircrafts, the F/A-18, is experiencing massive malfunctions that have resulted in death for some of its pilots.
According to the Navy, three F/A-18 crashes have killed pilots due to hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, because the aircrafts are no longer releasing enough breathable air.
Fox News explains that the aircrafts are experiencing a breakdown of life support systems. For example, the “On-board Oxygen Generating System” (OBOGS), or cabin pressurization system, could fail, which can cause pilots to experience what the Navy and Marine Corps calls “physiological episodes.”
How bad is the problem? Just this past March, Rear Adm. DeWolfe Miller, director of the Air Warfare Division for the U.S. Navy, said from 2015 to 2016, models of the F/A-18 experienced as much as a 90 percent increase in possible deadly physiological events.
Several pilots who operate the aircrafts agreed to do anonymous interviews with Fox News. They said every time they fly, their lives are put at risk.
“When I go flying in combat, what’s more likely to kill me is not getting shot down by enemy fire,” said one of the F/A-18 pilots. “It’s a failure in my most basic life support system. If you ask 10 aircrew: ‘What are you most scared of?’” he said, “nine out of 10 would probably say, ‘OBOGS failure or decompression.’”
One of the pilots who has experienced hypoxia in flight said the lack of oxygen makes you feel like you are “intoxicated”.
“I remember having trouble thinking. I obviously had trouble performing procedures, and I definitely did not have awareness of how much trouble we were in,” he said.
Fortunately, he was able to land safely. But other pilots said they have had to resort to emergency options. They explained how they pull the “green apple” in flight, a ring that releases emergency oxygen for about ten minutes, when they begin to experience hypoxia.
The Navy said it has installed decompression chambers on two of its deployed aircraft carriers—the USS Carl Vinson and the USS George H. W. Bush, to help resolve the problem. However, they admit this only benefits pilots who actually make it back to the ships.
In addition to the decompression chambers, the Navy says it is training pilots in simulators with a device that gives pilots a hypoxia feeling so they can recognize the symptoms when they are happening in flight. They are also trying to resolve the issue by giving pilots portable hypobaric recording watches that will let them know if cabin pressurization fails.
Boeing, is stepping in to help as well.
“We are working closely with the Navy to help identify root causes of physiological episodes and their solutions,” the company told Fox News. “Crew safety is a top priority for us, and we’ll continue to be a proactive partner on the way forward.”
The pilots who were interviewed by Fox did acknowledge that the problem is very complex, and they know the Navy and Marine Corps are doing what they can to fix it. They just hope it’s sooner than later.
Commander in the Naval Air Forces, Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, said the dangers F/A-18 malfunctions was his “No. 1 safety priority.”
“We will not be limited by money or manpower as we diligently work toward solutions,” he said.
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