Saturday, May 7, 2011

After Grounding Raptors, USAF Eyes Other Jets' Oxygen Systems

The U.S. Air Force, which on May 3 grounded its F-22 Raptors, has now identified which other aircraft might be affected by defective oxygen generators.
U.S. airmen watch as a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor taxis toward a refueling station March 31 on the flightline at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The service has also probed oxygen systems on other jet models, too. (Airman 1st Class Maeson L. Elleman / U.S. Air Force)
Since at least November, the service has been investigating the On-Board Oxygen Generation Systems (OBOGS) aboard the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and other tactical aircraft and trainers. The service grounded the F-22s after a spike in incidents potentially related to hypoxia.
"No other airframes have been stood down due to this investigation; however, a parallel investigation is taking place on the on-board oxygen generation systems on the A-10, F-15E, F-16, F-35 and T-6 aircraft," said Capt. Jennifer Ferrau, an Air Force spokeswoman for Air Combat Command (ACC), the service's primary body for training and equipping the combat air forces.
Equipment such as the OBOGS is fairly standardized across multiple aircraft types, said Hans Weber, who sat on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee, and is the president of Tecop International, a San Diego consulting firm.
"It's a big deal if you're at high altitude and you run out of oxygen," Weber said.
At 50,000 feet, a human being has less than 10 seconds of useful consciousness, he said.
Air Force Gen. William Fraser, commander of ACC, ordered a stand-down of the entire 158-plane F-22 fleet on May 3, Ferrau said. The service has not determined how long the Raptor fleet will remain grounded, nor has the exact nature of the problem been identified, she said.
"We are still working to pinpoint the exact nature of the problem. It is premature to definitively link the current issues to the OBOGS system," Ferrau said. "The safety of our airmen is paramount and we will take the necessary time to ensure we perform a thorough investigation."
There have been nine suspected cases of hypoxia during F-22 operations since mid-2008, and recently there has been a jump in the number of such incidents.
"Over the last week, we have experienced five additional F-22 'Physiological-Hypoxia Like' events across the Air Force, which led Commander of Air Combat Command to establish the current F-22 stand-down," Ferrau said.
Fraser has ordered an OBOGS Safety Investigation Board to get to the cause of these incidents, which now total 14.
Most of the incidents are characterized as "increased frequency of pilot reported physiological incidents such as hypoxia and decompression sickness," Ferrau said.
Air Force sources said that an OBOGS malfunction was suspected in a November crash outside Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, that claimed the life of Capt. Jeff Haney of the 525th Fighter Squadron.
Despite the known OBOGS incidents, the Air Force will not officially link the November crash to the oxygen generator malfunctions.
"It is inappropriate for us to comment on the F-22 crash in Alaska, since the accident investigation board report has not concluded," Ferrau said.
Lockheed Martin, which builds the F-22, has dispatched a five-person team of engineers to help with the Air Force OBOGS investigation, company spokeswoman Stephanie Stinn said.

New Tool Speeds F-35 Engine Work

U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin engineers have created a new type of tool that will allow maintenance crews to perform critical repairs on the U.S. Marines' F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) without removing the aircraft's jet engine.
Developed under the auspices of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., the tool will be used to support the weight of an actuator that moves the main thrust-vectoring nozzle during the plane's short-takeoff/vertical landing mode. It was first used on the flight line on April 2.
The Navy-Lockheed team came up with the innovation because normally, the entire engine would have to be removed to replace the actuator. While removing the engine and reinstalling it is a complex and time-consuming affair, the actual replacement of the actuator is a comparatively minor procedure.
"If it's taking days to run through a process with JSF, and we can come up with a method to save time and money, we're all for that," said Bill Farrell, an engineering technician who worked on the project, in a video released by the Navy.
With the new tool, it takes about three hours to change the actuator. Previously, the process could have taken days to accomplish.
"Now, this maintenance time has improved by approximately one week - good for flight testing, and better for our war-fighter," said Jim McClendon, Lockheed's site director vice president, in a press release.
The new tool will help speed the F-35B's flight testing, which is underway at the Maryland base.
"This special tool will not only speed development of the Lightning II but also pay big dividends after the aircraft is delivered to the fleet," said Rear Adm. Randy Mahr, commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, a component of NAVAIR.

Guilty Plea From Submarine Inspector

Robert Ruks, a former inspector for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court May 6 to two counts of lying about welds he should have inspected on U.S. Navy ships and submarines under construction at the Newport News, Va., shipyard.
A defective pipe joint weld on a submarine that Ruks had certified as properly done could have caused the loss of the submarine, as it was a certified SUBSAFE weld - critical to the ship's safety.
As a result of Ruks' false weld certifications, Northrop Grumman was forced to expend 18,906 man-hours to complete the reinspections, at a cost of $654,000, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The issue came to light in May 2009 after co-workers suspected Ruks, a non-destructive testing weld inspector, was not being truthful about his inspection reports. Questioned on May 14 of that year by his supervisors, Ruks admitted he had falsely certified inspecting three lift pad welds on a submarine although, according to a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, the inspections were not performed.
Ruks lied again on May 22, 2009, when he was questioned by agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. According to the statement of facts, while Ruks admitted falsifying the lift pad weld certifications, he lied to the agents about the number of other ship and submarine hulls he had failed to inspect.
Discovery of the false inspections stung Northrop Grumman, which had experienced a series of unrelated problems with poor weld work done at the Newport News shipyard.
The shipbuilder, now spun off from Northrop as Huntington-Ingalls Shipbuilding, declined to comment on Ruks' court case, saying it would not comment on personnel issues. Ruks was terminated by the shipyard shortly after his lying came to light.
"Lying on weld inspection reports is a dangerous crime that threatens the safety of our Navy personnel," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in the news release.
Between June 2005, when he was certified as an inspector, and May 2009, Ruks inspected and signed off on more than 10,000 welding structural joints on at least nine different ships.
Ruks performed most of his work on the submarines New Mexico (2,133 welds inspected), Missouri (3,169), California (2,002) and Mississippi (2,177). The smallest number of structural welds on any particular submarine was 23 on the New Hampshire and two on the North Carolina.
Just over 10 percent of the submarine welds were hull integrity or SUBSAFE joints involving critical parts. The inspector also performed 229 piping joint inspections on submarines.
Ruks is to appear for sentencing in the Newport News court on Aug. 12. He faces a maximum term of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and full restitution for each offense.

A400M Engine Wins Safety Certification

LONDON - The turboprop engine powering the Airbus A400M airlifter has been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Europrop International (EPI), the four-company consortium responsible for developing and building the TP400-D6 engine, said the milestone came after a test campaign that included more than 8,000 flight hours and more than 4,000 hours of ground testing.
The May 6 announcement came just days after EPI said it had signed an amended contract with Airbus Military settling outstanding issues related to the much-delayed and over-budget transport plane.
EPI involves partner companies Rolls-Royce, Snecma, MTU Aero Engines and Industria de Turbo Propulsores.
In a statement, EPI said the TP400 is the first large turboprop certified by EASA and the first military engine to be cleared by the agency to civil standards from the outset. At 11,000 shaft horsepower in a three-shaft configuration, the TP400 will be the most powerful turboshaft engine to enter service in the West.
Military certification is expected next year ahead of A400M deliveries getting underway to lead customer France around the turn of the year.
Airbus Military has orders from seven European countries for 170 aircraft, with an additional four being destined for export customer Malaysia.
The seven partner nations in the program are Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey.