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More T-6 hypoxia fixes coming within weeks, Air Force says — but physiological events still happening

The Air Force is preparing to roll out more fixes over the next few weeks to help stop the hypoxia-like problems that have plagued the T-6 Texan II trainer.

In a Thursday release, Brig. Gen. Edward “Hertz” Vaughan said that many steps are already under way to fix the wave of physiological events that repeatedly grounded the T-6 over the past year, and more are on the way. But more permanent fixes, which will involve procuring some major hardware and rolling it out to the field, will take more time, said Vaughan, the head of the Air Force Physiological Event Action Team.

The first series of fixes haven’t entirely stopped the physiological problems. A T-6 pilot on a routine training flight had a physiological event while Vaughan was visiting Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas to talk to the pilot community about the problem, according to the release.

Air Education and Training Command said last month that the physiological events were primarily caused by fluctuating concentrations of oxygen in the cockpit, and announced a series of fixes it hoped would correct the problems. Those include increasing maintenance on the T-6′s On-Board Oxygen Generating System, or OBOGS, adjusting oxygen levels in flight, and redesigning the oxygen system in the T-6.

Physiological events can include hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, or hypocapnia, or lack of carbon dioxide, and cause problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness or disorientation, or loss of consciousness.

Vaughan said that the work done on the T-6 could help pave the way to fixing physiological problems in other aircraft.

“There are teams, researchers, maintainers, pilots, medical professionals and a host of other highly qualified professionals who are tackling the issues surrounding physiological events,” Vaughan said. “Specific solutions to one aircraft and system, like the T-6, is not a fix to all, but we’re committed to applying the lessons of previous events to future operations and acquisitions.”

Vaughan’s team is looking at ways to use micro-sensors and accelerated artificial intelligence to help pilots monitor how they’re doing physically in real time.

“For years, we have relied on aircrew to act as the sensor to bring attention to physiological abnormalities in flight,” said Maj. Christianne Opresko, lead physiologist for the Air Force’s physiological team. “Just as we have sensors in the aircraft that provide real-time feedback on engines and other mechanical systems, our world-class operators need monitoring sensors that provide real-time, ‘in-the-loop’ feedback on physiological and cognitive states.”

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