Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircrews have experienced “physiological episodes” while flying the aircraft, the Department of Defence has confirmed.
“Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircrew have experienced events known as physiological episodes,” a Defence spokesperson told sister publication ADBR on Monday.
“Physiological episodes are caused by complex interactions between human physiology and the aircraft breathing air system.”
The F/A-18 and EA-18G aircraft’s onboard oxygen generating system (OBOGS) is thought to have triggered a number of hypoxia-like physiological events for US Navy aircrews, as well as some decompression events, in the last decade, with the issue raised in US Congressional hearings earlier this month.
“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 ranking member of the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee, Democrat Representative Niki Tsongas, said on February 6.
In response, Rear Admiral Sarah Joyner, head of the US Navy’s Physiological Episode Action Team, 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 are designed to make the aircraft safer to operate.
“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,” the Defence spokesperson told ADBR in a written statement.
The RAAF is continuing to implement a risk management plan for both aircraft types, Defence says.
“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.”
An Australian engineer has also been embedded with the US Root Cause and Corrective Action Integrated Project team.
“Personnel safety is Defence’s number one priority,” the Defence spokesperson said.