F-35s to get upgrade for oxygen generating system over hypoxia concerns

WASHINGTON — In response to reports of hypoxia-like symptoms experienced by F-35A pilots at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, the program office intends to make changes to the onboard oxygen generation system to optimize the flow of oxygen to those flying the jet.

The modification to the onboard oxygen generation system, or OBOGS, involves refining the algorithm associated with oxygen concentration, an F-35 joint program office spokesperson explained in a statement to Defense News.

“There is no indication the delivered oxygen concentration was a contributor to any of the recent events,” said Brandi Schiff. However, by tweaking the levels of oxygen associated with varying altitudes, the office may be able to help prevent further physiological incidents from happening.

Honeywell, the manufacturer of the F-35’s OBOGS system, will be responsible for designing upgraded firmware as well as a path to retrofit all variants of the joint strike fighter with the new capability, she said.

“Cost estimates are still being developed,” Schiff said. “The current time estimate is 24 months, but the F-35 joint program office, or JPO, is pushing [F-35 prime contractor] Lockheed Martin to accelerate the fielding of this new firmware.”

On June 9, officials at Luke AFB announced that it would pause F-35 flight operations at the base because of five incidents when pilots experienced symptoms similar to hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation. Experts from the program office were dispatched to the base, where they conducted testing and analysis for a week without reaching a solid conclusion on what had caused the episodes.

Brook Leonard, commander of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, ultimately made the decision to restart F-35 flight operations on June 21 after implementing several protective measures such as flying the aircraft at lower altitudes and increasing the minimum levels for backup oxygen systems.

Although the issues with the F-35 have been limited to the A models at Luke AFB, finding the root cause of physiological incidents like hypoxia has proved to be a difficult problem for all of the military services across a wide array of aircraft. The U.S. Navy…

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