US Navy Hornet oxygen issues persist – RAAF managing risk

180213-N-PE636-124 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 13, 2018) An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the "Sunliners" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81, lands on the flight deck aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). Truman is underway conducting a composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX), which evaluates the strike group's ability as a whole to carry out sustained combat operations from the sea, ultimately certifying the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group for deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn/Released)

UPDATED 1710 19/02/18 with ADF response:

A persistent issue with the onboard oxygen generating system (OBOGS) of US Navy F/A-18 Hornets and EA-18G Growlers has taken centre-stage in US Congressional hearings.

The ranking member of the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee, Democrat Representative Niki Tsongas said on February 6, “As we sit here today, new F/A-18s are rolling off the production [line] at a cost of around (US)$69 million per aircraft. At some point, paying (US)$69 million for an aircraft we know has serious problems with its life-support system has to be questioned.”

The OBOGS issues have triggered a number of hypoxia-like physiological events (PE) in the last decade, as well as some decompression events.

In response, US Navy Rear Admiral Sarah Joyner said the service is looking to make a series of design changes to the F/A-18’s OBOGS and Environmental Control System (ECS) that it hopes will make the aircraft safer to operate.

UPDATE: ADBR submitted a list of written questions to the ADF on February 15 asking whether RAAF Hornets, Super Hornets and Growlers have experienced similar events, and we received the following response from a Defence spokesman this afternoon.

“Personnel safety is Defence’s number one priority. Physiological episodes are caused by complex interactions between human physiology and the aircraft breathing air system.

“The problem is extremely complex as contaminants can be generated by a number of sources both within and external to the aircraft. Investigations led by the US Navy continue to develop a detailed understanding of this problem.

“Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircrew have experienced events known as physiological episodes. The Royal Australian Air Force continues to exercise a risk management plan for both the Super Hornets and Growlers.

“In line with this risk management plan, Defence has established a program to reduce the occurrence and severity of physiological episodes, which includes:

  • in-aircraft incorporation of a breathing air purification system
  • increase of emergency oxygen supply to assist in aircrew recovery should an issue arise.

“Defence has supported US Navy reviews into physiological episode management and investigation with a NASA independent review team hosted at RAAF Base Amberley in May 2017.

“Defence also has an engineer embedded full time in the US Root Cause and Corrective Action Integrated Project team.”

Two EA-18G Growler aircraft arrive at Avalon for the 2017 Australian International Airshow. *** Local Caption *** The Australian Defence Force is proud to be part of the 2017 Australian International Airshow - the premier event in the Southern Hemisphere for showcasing aerospace industry and military aviation.