Thursday, September 7, 2017

Shoot The Messenger

Shoot the messenger!

That’s a time honored method used by incompetent leaders to deal with bad news.  Now, we see the Navy’s version of that related to the aircraft oxygen deprivation problems being experienced by pilots.  Apparently, there is no problem.  It’s all in the pilot’s heads.  Yep, here’s the Navy’s explanation for the oxygen problems.

“First, the cockpit warning light for the On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS) goes off too often, making pilots think they had a problem with their air supply when there really wasn’t one, Winter [VAdm. Mat Winter, F-35 program director] said at the DefenseNews conference here yesterday. Since the warning signs of hypoxia are the same as the signs of getting anxious about hypoxia – you have trouble breathing and concentrating – a false alarm can easily send a pilot into psychosomatic symptoms. The program has tweaked the warning light to reduce false positives, Winter said.” [emphasis added] (1)

You’re not passing out, you just think you are!  I love it!  Only the Navy could come up with this response to a physiological and physical problem.  It’s all in your head!

“Second, in this summer’s incidents at Luke in particular, the problem was a combination of brutal temperatures and inexperienced pilots. While pilots who know an aircraft well can jump in the cockpit, run through their checklists, and get in the air ASAP, the F-35 is a new plane and most of its pilots are still mastering it. The result was pilots spending half an hour on the runway in the baking Arizona sun and 100-plus degree heat, all the while sitting in the carbon monoxide from their own jet exhaust. That’s enough to make anyone woozy.” [emphasis added] (1)

So, it’s the pilots fault!  Of course, Winter’s explanations ignore the fact that experienced pilots and instructor pilots were reporting symptoms across a variety of aircraft under a variety of conditions. 

The Navy’s version of shoot the messenger is to throw the complaining pilots under the bus!  This is not going to sit well with pilots who already feel their complaints were being ignored.  This should increase the pilot job satisfaction and reenlistment rate.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “JPO Fixing F-35 Oxygen, Carrier Landing, Software Glitches: VADM Winter”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 7-Sep-2017,


  1. False positives are a real problem in many health-related fields, specifically for ailments where the symptoms of the phenomenon itself are similar to the psychological effects of suspecting it. This is why every new medicine is tested in a double blind procedure. It's not just a USN idea, the placebo effect is real and well documented.

    Also, reducing false positives is a good move regardless of the actual flaws of any system- being able to trust your fault indicators is perhaps more vital than the reliability of the system itself.

    WRT the "inexperienced pilots" section, it does seem to be a CYA statement.

    1. Regarding false positives:

      -Yes, they are a problem in the medical field
      -Can't help but wonder who did the testing and approval of the monitor device that has been installed. Did no one notice the false positives? Did the pilots not panic in response to the false positives as the Navy is trying to claim that they do now? Do we really believe that every case of hypoxia is psychosomatic? If so, we apparently have a Navy an Air Force filled with panic-prone pilots. Are these really the guys we want flying combat? What will happen when they get a threat warning? Will they immediately panic and bail out?


  2. I worked on navy alarm system and the problem with false alarms is not just that people will react when no reaction is needed but then they stop reacting and ignore alarms. Alarms are a two edged sword, they must be set up properly or they are worse then having no alarm at all

  3. Wouldn't a good way to test this first be to just put a portable pulse oximeter on the pilots during testing of the OBOGS system to determine if it, and its warning lights, are faulty?


    Admittedly, its a PITA, but you just have it for testing. And I bet they have one you could affix to an ear or a toe that would be less invasive.

    Then you have real data. OBOGS alarm went off. Pilot is saying he's woozy. Pulseox says that his O2 is low (or not).

    Maybe they do this. I'm not sure. But it seems like the testing is all on whether the OBOGS is running well; which is really only half of the equation.

    1. Your point is excellent. I admit I'm baffled by the lack of relevant data collection given the plethora of medical/chemical tests and test equipment available in the civilian world. As you say, there is no need for it to be combat or g-force rated for the purpose of investigations.

      Good comment.

  4. Maybe just me since I'm a F35 critic but why the hell are pilots stuck in a F35 cockpit for 30 minutes or more?!? Going thru the checklist?!? or clearing faults?!? I thought this was 1 or 2 buttons to push, start the engine, ask for clearance and take off!!! Plus, with all the sim time, not knowing the systems doesn't apply, this isn't the 50s where some guy just walked up to a plane he never flew before and some other pilot gave him the rundown and wished him luck, why are they taking so long?!?

  5. OBOGs issues (all tactical jets and T-6) and the Hornet-only over-pressurization issue(s) are fundamental Problem Solving 101 requiring determination of all of the root causes (definetly a holistic system problem)and then applying due diligence to solve. Although my old man LOX experience tells me I would NOT want to breath air (O2) that started as jet engine bleed air if I had a choice...Something about that basic design is counter intuitive..

    Are the pilots over reporting about PA (physiological episodes)? You betcha and I would too if I was still flying...Only the "squeaky wheel in this new millennia Navy gets any grease"......Am I right?

    Now on the operational side (F-18 all, T-45, T-6 Texan) we have an experienced CARRIER AIR GROUP CAMMANDER(CAG), an O-6 destined for flag officer, who happens to be a woman, leading, what we used to call a PAT team, to solve the issues (there are many), and get this public affairs nightmare to "lie down" as they call it nowadays. YO- This is the best we have to pull the resources together to solve it. BTW, IMO, the root causes are lack of "quality maintenance- O-I-D", poor system knowledge and real lack of technical capability to isolate/troubleshoot... It's got to be, fundamentally the same OBOGS has been used on Hornets and F-16's since the early 1990's..

    Now let us turn, to VADM Winter's "brain fart" for that is what it is. He is partially correct in some of his points technically and his frustration shows, though that is not the way to handle "customer relations".... BTW, he also is one of those AEDOs (not a real line officer aviator) you hear me always bringing up. His entire operational experience is one 3 year tour as a BN in the A-6E before it retired.. Ever since he has been in acquisition, .... That initial sea tour tour was probably 25 years ago. Also, the A-6 used LOX- let that sink in now....

    Personally, I don't think he is the person to describe the color or condition of the kettle or the pot...

    CNOPs- Look at the congressional hearing yesterday- The VCNO went to provide testimony on the 7th fleet ship incidents in a Mea Culpa appeal... He is a career P-3 pilot only without a ship/CV/tour anywhere in his 30 years.. Never been a watchstander at sea, an OOD or TAO, forget about a CO tour or even a Staff (CSG, numbered fleet, etc.) tour on afloat command..

    I rest my point and buttress yours.. about leadership.


    1. If I had to guess, since this has been happening across all airframes and happening more and more as time goes by, we are looking at the maker of the systems thinking that they could get away with swapping in cheaper parts. Maybe they started going with buna o-rings instead of viton. Maybe they found a cheaper source of steel/aluminum. Maybe they didnt want to spring for Inconel anymore. Companies do this sort of thing all the time once they have locked in their customer base. This is Dow Corning making Pyrex from tempered glass instead of borosilicate and saying all the shattered dishes are in our heads.

    2. I've personally seen this in the case of drill steel for rock drills used in mining. Overall quality has gone down over the last 20 years, both in metallurgy and heat treatment. This has been driven by a shrinking market and a drive by companies to buy cheap instead of buying quality. My suspicion, if an apples to apples comparison was able to be made, is that overall costs have gone up because drill steel life has gotten so bad.

      I can easily see this across our economy. The acceptance of repeatedly purchasing cheap disposable junk from places like Walmart instead of spending money once for quality.

  6. If this was only happening to Navy pilots the admiralty might have a point...but haven't USAF pilots had the same problem?
    And after the VP's kid joined the rebellion over the Goshawk's similar problem they suddenly decided it wasn't all in his mind and sought to correct it.
    Now I have expressed more than a little disdain over the f-35...translation: scrap 'em and buy the advanced hornet...but there has been O2 problems on multiple craft in the last few years.
    The big guys like Lockheed and Boeing don't build everything in house, they buy from sub contractors. I bet someone with time to research it will the same one or two O2 system contractor for these planes...and it will be in the district of an influential Congressman


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