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Officials offer Congress little explanation for physiological episodes in aircraft

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Feb. 6 (UPI) — Congressional lawmakers on Tuesday received an update on growing concerns over “physiological episodes” occurring in T-45 Goshawks, a military jet-training aircraft, and F/A-18 Super Hornets, as well as other assorted aircraft.

The House Armed Forces subcommittee on tactical air and land forces heard testimony from Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, the deputy chief of staff of operations for the Air Force, along with Navy Physiological Events Action Team Lead Rear. Adm. Sara A. Joyner, and Clinton H. Cragg, who is the principal engineer at NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center.

While the causes of the aviation mishaps are still being researched and investigated, early indicators are pointing to hypoxia as their root cause.

Hypoxia-related incidents occur when there is an inadequate amount of oxygen traveling to the brain, with suggestions for recent issues placing blame on air systems in the planes.

According to the Navy Physiological Events Action Team and NASA, however, Navy investigators are currently only looking at the problem from an engineering standpoint, rather than looking at the effects of flight on individual pilots.

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House subcommittee, scolded Lt. Gen. Nowland over his opening statement that asserted that the aviation mishaps are due to a lack of training, rather than the physical toll exerted on a pilot during flight.

“I could not be more disappointed with your presentation,” Turner said. “We have had hearing after hearing after hearing on this and we have this report in front of us and the presentation we have [from the Navy Physiological Events Action Team and NASA] is the human factor is not being taken into consideration, and your answer is training… the Secretary of the Air Force does not agree with you.”

Former Navy fighter pilot and F/A-18 standardization instructor and flight operations director Benjamin Kohlmann told UPI last year that hypoxia-related incidents were rare during his time in the Navy from 2004 to 2013, lamenting that the problem has only risen to prominence in the last few years.

“At a certain attitude, the concentration of air is insufficient to provide someone with human cognition,” Kohlmann said. “The rule of thumb is that above 10,000 feet, prolonged exposure isn’t going to give you enough oxygen to do the day-to-day things that you need to survive, so we rely heavily on those oxygen systems.”

“I don’t know what’s causing it, maybe more attention is being paid to the issue, perhaps errors or mishaps that occurred in the past were not attributed to hypoxia-related incidents, but now are,” Kohlmann said. “It’s a mystery as to what the full extent of it is.”

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