I continue to be impressed by the young men and women in Naval Aviation. Over the last two days, I have visited and talked extensively with the instructor pilots, students and staffs from our T-45C Training Wings at Naval Air Station (NAS) Meridian, NAS Kingsville and NAS Pensacola. They raised concerns about safety and the risks associated with physiological episodes (PEs) being caused by the oxygen breathing system in the T-45C. Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, the commander of Naval Air Forces, answers questions during a press conference. It was important for me to hear directly from the pilots and share with them all the ongoing efforts to tackle this problem. I have been tracking these events in both the T-45 and F/A-18 fleets, but a recent spike in T-45 events was cause for the Operational Risk Management (ORM) pause the pilots initiated and my directed operational pause that followed. ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 20, 2017) A T-45C Goshawk training aircraft assigned to Carrier Training Wing (CTW) 1 approaches the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard/Released) Although we have taken an “unconstrained resources” approach to this problem, meaning we are dedicating our best people to find solutions and allocating necessary money toward mitigation measures despite current fiscal constraints, we are still seeing a rise in these events.
As I have shared before in messages to the force, I am fully prepared to limit or curtail flight operations if our fleet leadership team determines the risk to our aircrew cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level. After frank discussions with the aircrew, leadership staffs and engineers, I will extend the operational pause for at least a week to allow time for our engineers to do a deeper dive into T-45 systems and for leadership to determine additional mitigation measures that will reduce the risks associated with the T-45 oxygen breathing system. ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 10, 2016) Pilots perform pre-flight procedures in T-45C Goshawks from Training Air Wing One (TRAWING) 1 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Bryan Mai) We are seeking input from the pilots and they have shared some innovative ideas that we are evaluating as possible paths forward as we continue to identify the root causes of the PEs. During the calls, I reinforced the importance of the ORM process, and acknowledged the instructors’ concerns and the use of that tool as the mechanism for last Friday’s pause.
As we eventually get back to flying I expect the same, deliberate and well-established ORM process to continue to be used as an assessment of readiness for flying. And we will respect and honor those requests, as we have always done as part of our safety culture. Communication up and down the chain is critical to successful execution of any mission and this last few days of engagement identified some areas we can work on […]