F-35 fighter wing grounded after five incidents of pilots suffering oxygen deprivation

10 June 2017

An F-35 fighter wing has been grounded following five incidents where pilots suffered from oxygen deprivation problems, but the planes are expected to be back in action on Saturday, the Air Force said on Friday.

The 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona suspended all F-35A flights yesterday after five pilots experienced hypoxia-like symptoms, Air Force spokesman captain Mark Graff said in a statement. The pilots were able to land the planes safely after using all their backup oxygen.

"In order to synchronise operations and maintenance efforts toward safe flying operations we have canceled local F-35A flying," said brigadier general Brook Leonard, commander of the 56th Fighter Wing. "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," CNN reported quoting USAF spokesman.

According to Graff, the pause was taken "not out of fear or out of danger, but out of an abundance of caution.'' He added the Air Force planned to resume operations today.

There were 55 F-35As at Luke Air Force Base. According to Graff, it was still not clear what caused the oxygen incidents. He added that the pause was confined to Luke because "no other incidents have been reported" at any other Air Force bases since 2 May.

The F-35 business accounted for about 37 per cent of Lockheed's total revenue during the last fiscal quarter, which ended on 30 March and during the quarter, Lockheed's revenue from its aeronautics business increased 8 per cent to $4.11 billion, led by higher F-35 sales.

Lockheed and its main partners, Northrop Grumman Corp, United Technologies Corp's Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems Plc had been developing and building F-35s for the US military and 10 allies.

Over 220 operational F-35s had been built and delivered across the US, and they had collectively flown over 95,000 flight hours.

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