Top AF leader: Wright-Patt looking for cause of F-35 problems

Air Force Research Laboratory experts at Wright-Patterson will investigate the cause behind pilot reports of oxygen deprivation in the F-35 Lightning II, according to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.

The reports recently led the Air Force to temporarily ground the stealth jet at an Arizona military base

Wilson was among an entourage of top Air Force leaders to meet this week for a private, four-day summit at Wright-Patterson every year that targets key issues confronting the military branch. The annual summit is called Corona Top.

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In an exclusive interview Friday with the Dayton Daily News, Wilson, the Air Force’s top civilian leader, said Air Force researchers and others traveling to the base from across the nation will attempt to determine the cause of the oxygen-deprivation problem.

“We’re going to get to the root cause of this and I’m confident that the engineers and scientists here at Wright-Patt and from around the nation who are coming to Wright-Patt” will determine the reason behind the issue, Wilson said.

The F-35 ,the nation’s newest fighter jet, was grounded at Luke Air Force Base for 11 days in June when pilots reported five instances of hypoxia-like symptoms associated with oxygen deprivation. Back-up systems worked as designed, and the aircraft were able to land safely, The Associated Press reported. Luke was the only location where the jet was grounded because of the oxygen-related concerns.

Altitude-restricted flying operations resumed June 21, according to the Air Force.

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The problem is not unique to the F-35. Similar issues have been reported with the F-22, F/A-18 and the Navy’s T-45 jet pilot trainer, media reports show.

This week, Corona leaders at Wright-Patterson targeted warfighting, combat readiness, and professional development, among key matters, she said. “It was an intense four days,” she said.

The secretary also toured AFRL and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

The former New Mexico congresswoman and Air Force Academy graduate took over the highest-ranking Air Force civilian leadership post in May. Corona marked the first time she was able to meet key Air Force leaders outside the Washington, D.C., region, she said. The conference ended Friday.

“It was the first opportunity to meet them but it was also a first opportunity to do some deeper dives” on crucial matters, she said, such as increasing the size of the Air Force.

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