The U.S. Navy’s T-45C Goshawk fleet is expected to return to flight this week after a grounding of almost two weeks, but the airplane’s altitude will be limited to under 10,000 feet due to lingering problems with the trainer jet’s pilot breathing system.

The grounding, or “operational pause,” was imposed in early April due to a recent increase in physiological episodes caused by contamination of the aircraft’s onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS). Such episodes involve a decrease in pilot performance and can jeopardize flight safety.

A T-45C Goshawk training jet approaches an aircraft carrier. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)
A T-45C Goshawk training jet approaches an aircraft carrier. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)

By limiting the maximum cabin altitude to below 10,000 feet, the Boeing [BA] T-45C can operate without the OBOGS and still complete 75 percent of the syllabus flights, said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of naval air forces. Pilots will wear a modified mask to circumvent the OBOGS.

“Initially, instructor pilots will conduct warm-up flights, after which they will brief the remaining pilots and students in their squadrons on use of the modified equipment,” the Navy said. “As the week progresses, all instructor pilots will complete their warm-up flights, followed by warmups and training flights for student pilots.”

The Navy continues to search for the cause of the system’s problem. “Finding the root cause is a challenge on this complex, highly sophisticated platform,” the Navy said.

The Navy has 197 T-45s based at three naval stations: Kingsville in Texas, Meridian in Mississippi and Pensacola in Florida.

The T-45’s woes have raised concerns among lawmakers. After the grounding was announced, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces panel, said the pause “demonstrates the severity of a deeply troubling problem with this aircraft.”