The 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., cancelled local flying operations June 9 for F-35A Lightning II aircraft due to a series of five incidents in which pilots have experienced hypoxia-like symptoms.
According to base officials, since May 2, 2017, five F-35A pilots assigned to Luke AFB have reported physiological incidents while flying. In each case, the aircraft’s backup oxygen system operated as designed and the pilot followed the correct procedures, landing the aircraft safely.
“In order to synchronize operations and maintenance efforts toward safe flying operations we have cancelled local F-35A flying,” said Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, the 56th Fighter Wing commander. “The Air Force takes these physiological incidents seriously, and our focus is on the safety and well-being of our pilots. We are taking the necessary steps to find the root cause of these incidents.”
Wing officials will educate U.S. and international pilots today on the situation and increase their awareness of hypoxia symptoms. Pilots will also be briefed on all the incidents that have occurred and the successful actions taken by the pilots to safely recover their aircraft. Flight medicine will brief physiological symptoms and also the extensive measures that are being taken to analyze data collected from the incidents. Finally, the 56th Operations Group will hold an open forum to discuss any concerns pilots may have given these recent occurrences.
Currently, the local flying operations cancellation is limited to Luke AFB.
Air Force senior leaders are aware of the incidents and are providing support and resources as necessary to protect pilots. More broadly, the F-35 Joint Program Office has stood up a formal action team of engineers, maintainers and aeromedical specialists to examine the incidents to better understand the issue. These subject matter experts will share the data across the F-35 enterprise and with partner nations.