No Root Cause Found, But F-35As to Resume Flight Ops at Luke AFB

LUKE AFB, Ariz. --- The 56th Fighter Wing will resume local F-35A Lightning II flight operations Wednesday June 21, 2017, following an 11-day pause after five physiological events occurred during flights from May 2-June 8 2017.

No specific root cause for the physiological events was identified during recent visits from experts and engineers from the Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, the Air Force Research Laboratory and other organizations.

However, specific concerns were eliminated as possible causes, including maintenance and aircrew flight equipment procedures.

Five criteria are temporarily applied to local flights as technical and human performance data continues to be gathered:
1. Avoid the altitudes in which all five physiological events occurred.
2. Modify ground procedures to mitigate physiological risks to pilots.
3. Expand physiological training to increase understanding between pilot and medical communities.
4. Increase minimum levels for backup oxygen systems for each flight.
5. Offer pilots the option of wearing sensors during flight to collect airborne human performance data.

“Our active duty, reserve, and international team has worked tirelessly to better understand the physiological events,” said Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, the 56th Fighter Wing commander. “This is a complex challenge that necessitates multidimensional solutions across a series of steps to get back to a full operating capability. We are confident that this initial step with the criteria our team developed will allow us to return to flying F-35s safely and to continue building the future of airpower.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The “physiological events” referred to in the above press release all involved hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, which is not a superficial problem.
The fact that only the aircraft at Luke AFB were grounded suggested a local, possibly maintenance, problem, but this has now been ruled out, so the logic behind the decision to resume flight operations seems strange.
If it’s not a local problem, then it’s a fleet-wide problem, and if the root cause hasn’t been found and fixed, then all F-35s are at risk.
Logic, and safety considerations, would have suggested a fleet-wide grounding, as major malfunctions have appeared in the On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) fitted to most US fast jets.
The Air Force announcement also doesn’t say whether the same flight restrictions also apply to all F-35s, to all “A” variants, or just to the 55 F-35As operated at Luke AFB.)


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