Wicker: All Navy T-45 aircraft will have new oxygen-level monitor by February

By Lee Hudson / December 13, 2017 at 10:52 AM

The Navy will install a new oxygen-level monitoring system in every T-45C Goshawk training aircraft by February, according to a Mississippi senator.

Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) noted in a statement released today the measure combined with other upgrades will help alert pilots to a decline in oxygen production or pressure levels.

"The Navy has also grounded any T-45 lacking the full collection of modifications," according to Wicker's statement. "In addition, the Navy is developing a new automatic backup oxygen system scheduled for future installation across the T-45 fleet."

Rear Adm. Sara Joyner, physiological episode action team lead at the Pentagon, told reporters in October 65 percent of T-45Cs were cleared to fly. The Navy plans to outfit the remaining T-45s with a new oxygen measuring device, the CRU-123. It is a digital upgrade to the current CRU-99.

"What the CRU-123 does for us is it tells us . . . the percent of oxygen and flow going through the system," Joyner said.

In June, the Navy released a comprehensive review of physiological episodes after pilots reported several instances of hypoxia. The service then established a Physiological Episode Rapid Response Team to create consistency in the Navy's approach to determining the problem.

The upgraded system planned for the T-45 allows the service to troubleshoot the aircraft before it leaves the ground to resolve any issues. The problems can range from an ill-fitting mask to a leak in the system, which both can lead to a physiological episode, she added.

"It is a case-by-case [basis]," Joyner said in October. "You could have an aircraft that could be working for seven days, and the pilot gets in and has a mask that's not working right."

Joyner's team also discovered on the T-45 an oxygen airflow problem related to the aircraft's smaller engine. She compared it to drinking through a straw that is too small.

Joyner said that when a pilot pulls on the throttle to reduce speed or descend the aircraft, the air flow dips to a level that makes it difficult to breathe.

The Navy is installing refurbished heat exchangers that do not block flow and analyzing piping in the aircraft to detect flow loss, she said.