A whole squadron of F-35 fighter jets has been grounded due to a dramatic increase in hypoxia incidents on board.
All F-35 aircraft attached to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US, have been grounded while an investigation into a number of ‘physiological incidents’ takes place.
Five pilots flying different F-35 jets based at Luke have experienced hypoxia symptoms on board since May 2, forcing the grounding of all aircraft at the base.
Hypoxia problems are relatively common in combat jet aircraft. Issues with the life support gear on board F-22 Raptors were identified and resolved back in 2012. And the F/A-18 Hornet’s fleet has also experienced similar problems across all its variants.
The current issue is of particular importance, as Luke Air Force Base is the pilot training hub for the F-35A variant. Pilots from several nations attend F-35 training programs a the location.
The aircraft, which has had a troubled development history, is manufactured in three versions: The F-35A is the Air Force model, and was declared airworthy and combat-ready in August 2016.
The F-35B is custom-made for the US Marine Corps (USMC). The F-35C, designed to be flown from carriers, is a ‘work in progress.’ 220 machines in total have been built, but none has seen combat yet.
The F-35 program is the most expensive military weapon system in history, having gone over $163bn over budget, and delivered seven years behind schedule.
The jet’s astronomical per-unit cost has caused heated controversy over the years, with experts citing that it delivers poor value for money when compared with older generation aircraft.