by Jeremy Morrison
As the U.S. Navy continues its grounding of the T-45 training aircraft amidst safety concerns, Rep. Matt Gaetz, (R-Fla.) visited Naval Air Station Pensacola April 10 to get a firsthand account of the situation.
“We’re very fortunate that the circumstances that have led to pilot disorientation have not resulted in something very tragic in our community,” Gaetz reported afterwards during a press briefing with local medial outlets.
The Navy’s fleet of T-45 Goshawk planes at multiple bases, including NAS Pensacola, has been grounded due to concerns about the aircraft’s oxygen system. Pilots were refusing to fly the planes, citing physiological impacts due to the oxygen delivery system.
Gaetz said that he had spoken to both leadership and pilots at NAS, where he heard accounts of flight instructors and students suffering sever symptoms due to some type of unidentified contaminant in the oxygen they were breathing. The congressman relayed one instance in which a student reported hypoxia-related symptoms before passing out, after which the instructor also began suffering symptoms but was able to safely land the plane.
“After those two pilots landed, they both required medical attention,” Gaetz said. “And there was palpable odor and vapor coming off of their bodies. That indicates that the failures with our oxygen systems are not just the depravation of oxygen, but the introduction of contaminants that are literally poisoning our pilots.”
The congressman, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said he will report back to Washington D.C. that the source of the contaminants in the oxygen system needs further investigation.
“There is only one path forward,” he said, “and that is to diagnose the contaminant that is disorienting pilots.”
In addition to concerns about pilot safety, Gaetz noted that there were also concerns about issues on the ground in the event of a crash due to problems with the T-45’s oxygen system.
“It was striking when one pilot looked at me and said, ‘You know, my family lives just miles at the end of this runway. And I don’t want to put them in jeopardy, I don’t want to put our community in jeopardy, I don’t want to put a student in jeopardy, by being in a situation where there could be rapid onset disorientation,’” Gaetz relayed.
In addition to the concerns about the T-45 Goshawk, the congressman said that there are possibly similar issues with the F-18s, though he said it was “too early to tell” if there was a need to ground that model of aircraft.
“The acuity seems to be higher with the T-45,” Gaetz said.
The congressman blamed the T-45 grounding on “defense sequestration,” contending that the military’s equipment was not being maintained up to snuff due to a lack of funding.