Air Force says it found the cause of oxygen losses in cockpits

Air Force says it found the cause of oxygen losses in cockpits

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U.S. Air Force Lt Col Samuel Mcintyre, breaths through a mask as he flies a flight simulator during hypoxia training at 1st Operations Group aerospace and operational physiology, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Dec. 5, 2017 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan Biese)

WASHINGTON — The Air Force says it has determined the cause of hypoxia-like oxygen loss incidents that caused several groundings, operational pauses and other precautionary measures for pilots since last November.

A six-month study the Air Force conducted indicates a problem with varying oxygen concentration levels was occurring in T-6 aircraft and others planes. The study, released Thursday, said that malfunction was the “major factor in unexplained physiological events” triggering shortness of breath, dizziness or disorientation, and lost consciousness in pilots, according to the news release.

Hypoxia is when the heart and/or lungs cannot provide the blood with the proper amount of oxygen, causing the brain and other organs to start failing.

The data revealed pilots have been exposed to significantly changing levels of oxygen concentration — a problem that should be corrected by redesigning the oxygen system to adjust flow of oxygen during flight and increasing maintenance on the On-Board Oxygen Generating System, such as purging excess moisture from the system, the Air Force said in the release.

The groundings put a dent in Air Force pilot training and readiness. In March, the Air Force projected it would likely graduate 10 percent fewer new pilots than planned this year because of the groundings.

The hypoxia issue became part of a larger concern regarding air crashes that prompted Congressional calls in the spring for a creating an independent national commission to examine the uptick in deadly military aviation crashes.

Many House Armed Services Committee members have complained about what they consider is a much too slow approach by the Pentagon to dealing with aviation and pilot safety.

In April, one Armed Services subcommittee acted to address hypoxia-like physiological episodes that have been hitting military pilots in all branches during flight by designating funds to require modifications to some aircraft as well as require more robust and frequent reporting on progress to resolving the threat.

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