WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's hearing titled “Addressing Physiological Episodes in Fighter, Attack, and Training Aircraft.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"The subcommittee meets today to receive an update on how the Departments of the Navy and Air Force are addressing physiological episodes in tactical and training aircraft.
I'd like to welcome our distinguished panel of witnesses:
Mr. Clint Cragg, Principal Engineer from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center
Rear Admiral Sara Joyner, Physiological Episodes Action Team Lead for the U.S. Navy, and
Lieutenant General Mark Nowlan, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations
I thank you all for your service and look forward to your important testimony today.
For over two years now this Subcommittee has held briefings, hearings and conducted site visits regarding the occurrences of physiological episodes or PEs in tactical and training aircraft.
As I stated before, I believe Navy leadership was initially slow to respond to this issue that is having a direct effect on overall readiness and affecting the confidence of our pilots as well as their ability to perform their missions.
Because it is not just these events occurring, it is also the anxiety of these events occurring in succession.
As a result of Subcommittee activity, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included legislation that required an independent report of the Navy's efforts to resolve these issues. That report was delivered to the subcommittee in mid-December and a copy has been provided to Member offices.
According to the report, the Navy was addressing the PE problem as an aircraft problem, not a human problem. We have to acknowledge that physiological episodes happen to people, not aircraft.
The report also concludes that the F/A-18 systems that support human health are 'complex, dynamic, and interactive.' As a result, the more complex, dynamic, and interactive a system is - the more important it is to have a well-coordinated, systems approach to design and operations.
Finally, the report notes that Physiological Episodes will persist in the F/A-18, and all high-performance aircraft, if there is a piecemeal approach to human systems integration.
Our witness Mr. Cragg was the primary author of this report and he is prepared to provide the subcommittee with a summary of the report's findings and recommendations.
On September 15th of last year, Ms. Tsongas and I visited Naval Air Station 'Pax' River to receive briefings on the root cause and corrective action processes from members of the Navy's Physiological Episodes Action Team.
We spoke with engineers and pilots and learned about the Navy's process to find the root cause of these events. We were also briefed on the Navy's attempts to alert and protect the aircrew, and monitor the system.
Additionally, we spoke with engineers at some of the labs who are analyzing specific portions of the primary systems that make up the Environmental Control System (ECS) and on-board oxygen generating system (OBOGS).
I believe the Navy has taken a step in the right direction by establishing a formal action team directly responsible for addressing physiological episodes. That team is led by our Navy witness today, Rear Admiral Joyner.
However despite these efforts pilots are continuing to experience physiological episodes and I am concerned about the increased frequency.
For example, since the subcommittee's last event in May of last year, the Navy as well as the Air Force have continued to report incidences of PEs in aircraft.
This past spring and summer, the Navy made the decision to ground all T-45 training aircraft due to increasing occurrences of pilots experiencing hypoxia symptoms in the aircraft. The decision was made after a significant number of instructor pilot's at all three T-45 training locations refused to fly the aircraft due to safety concerns with the oxygen system.
The Air Force grounded F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at Luke Air Force base in June of last year due to oxygen problems, and the F-35 fleet has experienced 29 physiological episodes to date.
In early December of last year, the subcommittee was informed that 13 A-10 aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force base have been grounded due to problems with their oxygen systems.
And just last week, the Air Force grounded all T-6 training aircraft at six operating locations due to an increasing rate of unexplained physiological episodes in the T-6 aircraft.
There is no doubt this remains a complex problem to solve that requires a well-coordinated 'systems approach' to include all factors such as the aircraft, the pilot, and the environment.
So in closing we need to be reassured this remains a top priority for the Navy and Air Force, that the two services are coordinating efforts, and that a 'systems approach' to solving this problem is being taken.
The increasing frequency of these physiological episodes is having a direct effect on overall readiness, and as such we expect to receive your professional assessments on what we as Members of this subcommittee can do to help you address this critical problem."