Losses and Aviation Safety

NASA finds Boeing depended ‘almost entirely’ on U.S. Navy to fix F/A-18 physiological episodes

“My conclusion was that Boeing did not try to find the solution to physiological episodes problem,” Clinton Cragg, principal engineer for NASA’s engineering and safety center

NASA’s review into the unexplained physiological episodes (PEs) occurring on the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 and EA-18G fleet concluded that Boeing depended ‘almost entirely’ on the U.S. Navy to fix the issues.

“What this review of Boeing’s PE involvement suggests is that Boeing, the manufacturer of the F/A-18 (a fighter with a long history of PE episodes), has shown a very limited effort on its own initiative to describe a problem with their product to their customer, and no initiative to actually correct the problem,” Aviation Week reports.

During the comprehensive NASA investigation, Boeing and the Navy’s F/A-18 and EA-18G program office jointly provided NASA a list of 49 initiatives the team undertook to address the PEs dating back to 2000. But NASA concluded that most of the items were ordered by the Navy for reasons other than solving this particular problem, while others occurred before PEs became a recognized issue. Most of the items appeared to be “normal” programmatic activity, such as revising manuals, improving aircrew emergency procedures and redesigning or improving some components for non-PE reasons, according to the report.

“My conclusion was that Boeing did not try to find the solution to this problem,” Clinton Cragg, principal engineer for NASA’s engineering and safety center, tells Aviation Week. “I would think that if a product is not up to standard, then probably the manufacturer ought to be doing something.”

Dan Gillian, the aerospace company’s F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager, disputes the finding. Efforts by the company has helped to drive down the rate of PEs.

“I think we’ve been proactive partners with the Navy on F/A-18, in particular, for the duration of the program,” Gillian tells Aviation Week, pointing in particular to Boeing’s role in improving the Onboard Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS) sieve material and maintenance practices for that system a few years back.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F/A-18F Super Hornet VFA-11 Red Rippers, AB101 / 166634 / 2015

The company in fact is creating and implementing “a comprehensive root-cause corrective action (RCCA) process, pulling from around Boeing, pulling from our experience on F-22, pulling from our experience on 787, the best of Boeing, [and] bringing the medical community in,” Gillian says. The goal was “to really [pursue this], starting with the human, ending with the human.”

According Gillian the RCCA process is ongoing but has already yielded tangible results. Boeing in February implemented a change to the F/A-18’s environmental control system software to “smooth out” the cabin pressurization flow and is gearing up to replace the F/A-18’s analog cockpit-pressure altimeter—a needle that moves up and down on the instrument to reflect cabin pressurization—with a digital system. The Cabin Pressure and OBOGS Monitoring System (CPOMS) will constantly display the cabin pressure in the cockpit to the pilot and alert him or her visually and orally—through a headset—if there is a change in the flow.

The newest F/A-18s will be delivered to the Navy with CPOMS already installed, while the existing Hornets may incorporate the system during service-life modification, Gillian says.

As a result of Boeing effort the Navy is seeing a downward trend in F/A-18 and T-45 PEs, Gillian notes.

Noteworthy as we have previously reported a recent Pentagon’s report found that Boeing has been producing F-15s, F/A-18s with quality issues for years. Undelivered aircraft have been found with missing, backwards and out-of-specification fasteners. Jets under assembly are inadvertently damaged when they hit maintenance work stands or other equipment on the floor.

Even though the aerospace company was punished by the Pentagon by withholding payments, the report said Boeing is more focused on “maintain cash flow, increase profit and achieve contract award.”

Photo credit: Petty Officer3rd Class Daniel Gaither and Lt. Aaron B. Hicks / U.S. Navy

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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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