The United States Navy’s twin-engine supersonic, multirole combat jet, the F-18 Hornet, has been experiencing issues with its On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), as the Navy has been continuously searching for a fix for five years. The system failure, while rare, could potentially kill the aircraft’s pilot due to in-flight oxygen deprivation, consequently costing a pilot’s life as well as potentially destroying a $30 million to $60 million aircraft.
“I’m concerned about the high rate of hypoxia — which is caused by a lack of oxygen — and other physiological events apparently being experienced by the crew members of F-18 aircraft over the past five years,”
said a senior Democrat on the House Armed Services subcommittee for tactical land and air forces, Rep. Niki Tsongas.
Oxygen deprivation can cause the pilot of the aircraft to feel nauseous or dizzy, which could be very dangerous while flying through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. While Tsongas noted that the F-18s carry backup bottles of oxygen, the emergency supply requires manual intervention in order to be turned on properly. This can be challenging for a pilot already experiencing oxygen deprivation. Also, this auxiliary oxygen supply only contains about 10 minutes’ worth of oxygen, which is hardly enough to get the aircraft back to an aircraft carrier or base in order to land safely.
From May of 2010 through October of 2015, the United States Navy recorded 297 incidents for every variant of the F-18.
“None of the incidents….have resulted in loss or damage of an aircraft,”
said the Navy papers.
“In all but one instance, the pilot made a full recovery from the episode.”
Not much information has been released regarding that one pilot.