Losses and Aviation Safety

LUKE’s F-35s GROUNDED AFTER HYPOXIA INCIDENTS

Five F-35A pilots assigned to Luke AFB have experienced physiological incidents while flying since May 2, 2017

As reported in a U.S. Air Force (USAF) press release the 56th Fighter Wing (FW) at Luke Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona, cancelled local flying operations on Jun. 9, 2017 for F-35A Lightning II aircraft due to a series of five incidents in which pilots have experienced hypoxia-like symptoms.

According to base officials in fact, five F-35A pilots assigned to Luke AFB have experienced physiological incidents while flying since May 2, 2017. In each case, the aircraft’s backup oxygen system operated as designed and the pilot followed the correct procedures, landing the aircraft safely.

“In order to synchronize operations and maintenance efforts toward safe flying operations we have cancelled local F-35A flying,” said Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, the 56th FW commander. “The Air Force takes these physiological incidents seriously, and our focus is on the safety and well-being of our pilots. We are taking the necessary steps to find the root cause of these incidents.”

Noteworthy on the same day the unit officials educated U.S. and international pilots on the situation and increase their awareness of hypoxia symptoms. Pilots have also been briefed on all the incidents that have occurred and the successful actions taken by the pilots to safely recover their aircraft. Moreover flight medicine briefed physiological symptoms and also the extensive measures that are being taken to analyze data collected from the incidents. Finally, the 56th Operations Group held an open forum to discuss any concerns pilots could have given these recent occurrences.

Currently, the local flying operations cancellation is limited to Luke AFB.

The F-35 Joint Program Office has stood up a formal action team of engineers, maintainers and aeromedical specialists to examine the incidents to better understand the issue. These subject matter experts will share the data across the F-35 enterprise and with partner nations.

Photo credit: Senior Airman Stormy Archer and Tech. Sgt. Jarad A. Denton / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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