Flying blind and freezing: Navy investigates terrifying system failures on EA-18G Growler

Flying blind and freezing: Navy investigates terrifying system failures on EA-18G Growler
EA-18G Growler struts its stuff. (Image: USN, MC3 Jake Cannady via Defense One)

[Ed. – As the article indicates, this is part of a very worrisome trend on the F-18 airframe.  (The EA-18G is the follow-on to the EA-6B electronic warfare jet, built on the F-18 airframe.)  I knew about the problem, but I hadn’t realized how widespread it has been. 125 physiological episodes in just one year, from environmental system failures, is a really honking lot of episodes. This is alarming.]

By the time the flight was over, an elite aircrew with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine was being rushed for medical treatment, and yet another failure of the EA-18G Growler’s environmental control system — one not seen in any of the previous physiological episodes linked to the ECS — was raising new concerns in the Navy’s sisyphean fight to stop physiological episodes from putting pilots at risk in the sky.

The temperature inside the cockpit suddenly plunged to temperatures reaching -30 degrees and a mist pumped into the the cockpit, covering the instruments and windows in a layer of ice, rendering the pilots almost completely blind…

The fog inside the aircraft iced over the instrument panel, forcing the pilot and electronic warfare officer to use a Garmin watch to keep track of their heading and altitude while air controllers began relaying instructions to the crew. The pilot and EWO were forced to use the emergency oxygen supply, which was completely depleted by the end of the flight.

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A heroic effort by the two-person crew and the ground-based controllers managed to guide the aircraft back to Whidbey Island, but both pilot and EWO suffered serious injuries due to frostbite. The aircrew suffered from “severe blistering and burns on hands,” according to the Navy internal report.

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