The Navy did not tell Congress about a recent physiological episode (PE) involving an EA-18G Growler with crew that landed using a smart watch, despite a recent hearing on the matter.

Members of Congress said in a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson last week that the service did not tell the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces about the Jan. 29 incident despite having a hearing on Feb. 6.

An E/A-18 Growler electronic attack aircraft in the foreground shadowed by a F/A-18 Super Hornet. Photo by Boeing.
An E/A-18 Growler electronic attack aircraft in the foreground shadowed by a F/A-18 Super Hornet. Photo by Boeing.

House Armed Services Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) wrote their understanding of the incident is “that after a failure of the aircraft’s environmental control system, the aircrew flew 60 miles with a -30 degree cockpit temperature and severely limited visibility. We also understand that the pilots were able to land safely using a GPS wristwatch.”

The subcommittee heads said they are concerned that “events like these are having a direct effect on overall readiness by affecting the confidence of our pilots as well as their ability to perform their missions.”

The incident was first reported by Defense News late last month.

Turner and Tsongas pointed out their subcommittee has held several hearings on the PE issue, most recently on Feb. 6 with witnesses from NASA, the Air Force, and the Navy.

However, “During this nearly two-hour engagement, the Navy witness failed to mention the PE experienced by an EA-18G Growler crew on January 29th,” the subcommittee leaders wrote.

The Navy is treating this event as a mishap and has an ongoing investigation. However, Turner and Tsongas said they are disappointed the Navy did not tell members at or before the hearing about the mishap or that an investigation had begun.

“As members of the House Armed Services Committee we need to be reassured the Navy continues to treat mitigating PEs as a top priority.

Turner and Tsongas also noted Rear Adm. Sara Joyner, Team Lead of the PE Action Team (PEAT), is being reassigned and hope her successor will match her “invaluable expertise in this area.”

Joyner was assigned to be director of J1 in the Joint Staff in January (Defense Daily, Jan. 24)

Joyner was first assigned to lead the PEAT following a recommendation from a report on the PEs (Defense Daily, Aug. 11, 2017). 

In October Joyner told reporters the team expected to conclude the overall process by August 2018. The team has implemented several modifications to increase monitoring of breathing gas getting to pilots in affected aircraft like the E/A-18G and T-45 and adjusted fleet and training procedures to minimize the PE issues (Defense Daily, Oct. 2).

Last week the head of NAVAIR said the Navy has made significant progress with the T-45 PE problem, finding an issue with power being too low and reducing the flow of breathing gas in some conditions (Defense Daily, March 8).