Navy and Marine Corps officials said they expect T-45C Goshawk trainer pilot production to get back to full capacity by the end of the month but that the MV-22B is currently at “unacceptable” readiness rates.
Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces, said the Navy expects T-45C pilot production to get back up to pre-operational pause levels by the end of November, he told reporters following a House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee hearing on aviation readiness.
The Navy first grounded its fleet of Boeing [BA] T-45Cs in April due to an increase in physiological episodes (PEs) related to contamination in the aircraft’s onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS) (Defense Daily, April 10).
“So production is in a good place right now,” even as the service is dealing with almost eight months of no new pilot production in the tactical aircraft (TacAir) communities. Shoemaker said there is no disruption in the fleet currently and he expects a peak gap to occur from early spring 2019 through December 2019.
He said the Navy now has 143 modified T-45s, recently finished a carrier qualification detachment on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) that qualified 32 student aviators, and has two qualification detachments. One detachment is at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., and the other at Shaw AFB, S.C.
Capt. Sara Joyner, head of the PE Team (PET), told reporters in October that the Navy is allowing the aircraft to fly again after being outfitted with new monitors for altitude and oxygen flow (Defense Daily, Oct. 2).
Shoemaker added that in over 15,000 hours flown the service had five PEs. Of those five, one was ascribed to dehydration, one to fatigue, and one because of a mistake in the procedures for operating the OBOGS.
“We never found a smoking gun, we’ve made a lot of changes to the system to address what we thought were the potential causal factors so I think we’re in a good spot in the T-45 production,” Shoemaker said.
Marine Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, said that “we were good in FY '17 because we had pilots that were already in the pool.”
The service will watch how fiscal year 2018 production goes but that so far, after receiving a briefing in recent days, “it looks like they’re going to be able to recoup and get back on staff. So we’re actually positive about where the T-45 production is going,” Rudder said.
He noted the Marine Corps was able to pull many transition pilots to help fill seats in fleet replacement squadrons.
The FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference bill, released yesterday, requires the Secretary of the Navy to provide quarterly updates on the progress of the service’s PET and how it is trying to solve the issue in F/A-18s, EA-18 Growlers, and the T-45 (Defense Daily, Nov. 8).
Separately, Rudder noted in his prepared statement to the subcommittee that the MV-22 Common Configuration Readiness and Modernization (CCRAM) program is a “critical readiness initiative” needed to restore the aircraft fleet and aircrew to a congressionally-mandated T 2.0 ready force.
He said ready basic aircraft (RBA) rates for the MV-22 are currently at 48 percent, “which is unacceptable.”
Rudder acknowledged the findings of an Independent Range Review (IRR) of the MV-22 program, which found the high demand for the tiltrotor aircraft required on-the-fly modification as they came off the production line. This led to 77 different configurations of the aircraft hurried to combat areas (Defense Daily, June 20).
CCRAM is needed to restore and sustain 34 additional RBA among the existing fleet.
“To this point, a 7-year multi-year procurement contract for V-22 allows us to capitalize on savings and simultaneously support the CCRAM initiative,” Rudder told the subcommittee.
The FY 2018 NDAA conference bill agreed with this point and authorized multiyear procurement authorities for the V-22.
The V-22 is produced by a Bell/Boeing team. Bell is a division of Textron [TXT].