Navy's Whole T-45 Trainer Fleet to Get New Oxygen Systems After Hypoxia-Like Events

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Pilots perform pre-flight procedures in T-45C Goshawks from Training Air Wing One 1 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington on Dec. 10, 2016. The wing's Training Squadron 7 is on a stand-down after a crash that killed two. Petty Officer 2nd Class Bryan Mai/Navy
Pilots perform pre-flight procedures in T-45C Goshawks from Training Air Wing One 1 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington on Dec. 10, 2016. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Bryan Mai/Navy)

The U.S.Navy's entire T-45 Goshawk fleet will receive a new smart oxygen concentrator, a system crucial in providing pilots with clean air while in flight.

Cobham Mission Systems announced Tuesday that it won a Naval Air Systems Command contract to update the jet trainers with the GGU-25 next-generation concentrator.

"We are honored to have the Navy's ongoing confidence in our products and to be given this opportunity to continue serving the T-45 fleet," said Jason Apelquist, senior vice president of business development and strategy for Cobham Mission Systems, in a news release.

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"We have advanced our oxygen concentrator technologies and design standards significantly in the last decade to further support the warfighter and ensure critical operational data is monitored in real time," Apelquist said.

Cobham makes a variety of oxygen enhancing technologies, including the onboard oxygen generating systems, or OBOGS; breathing regulators for oxygen flow; breathing sensors to measure cockpit environmental conditions against a pilot's breathing rhythm; and emergency, liquid or portable oxygen systems, according to the company.

Part of the OBOGS delivery system, which filters nitrogen from the air, the concentrator provides the breathing regulator system with clean oxygen.

The GGU-25 is the replacement for Cobham's GGU-7, the legacy system currently used in the T-45, Apelquist said.

"GGU-25 is designed to be a smart concentrator that delivers the required amount of oxygen to the pilot and also records key operational parameters in real time," according to the release. "This data is extremely useful in troubleshooting any possible incidence of unexplained physiological episode during flight."

In 2017, reports surfaced that about 100 T-45 instructor pilots had refused to fly, citing safety concerns with the aircraft that resulted in pilots experiencing hypoxic-like physiological episodes -- or disorientation -- during flight.

Hypoxia-related events have plagued both the T-45 and F/A-18 Super Hornet communities since 2012, according to a 2017 report from Fox News.

The Navy ordered a temporary pause on all T-45 training flights due to the cockpit episodes. After studying the issue, officials in 2020 said they had been able to substantially decrease the number of physiological episodes in the jet despite not finding a root cause for the problem.

Research teams found that T-45 pilots were more likely to experience an oxygen-related incident, while F-18 pilots were encountering both pressure change and oxygen anomaly events.

The T-45 team observed flight profiles in which the OBOGS concentrator wasn't putting out enough air, according to Rear Adm. Fredrick Luchtman, commander of the Naval Safety Center and lead for the Physiological Episodes Action Team. He spoke to reporters about the Navy's effort to reduce the episodes in 2020.

The concentrator issue prompted a change to the system's inlet pipe so it could pump out more air, he said at the time, adding that the service would look for a new OBOGS concentrator as part of a previously mandated modernization effort.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Boeing Offers Up Its T-7A Trainer Jet to Replace Navy's T-45 Goshawk

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