Tyler Rogoway wrote an interesting text about a recent OBOGS failure in a EA-18G Growler from the VAC-132.
I strongly encourage you to read it but if you don’t have time the long story short is that there was a failure with the system just before the start and the cabin literally exploded due to the huge pressure inside. The crew survived thanks to, let’s not be afraid to call them like that, HEROES, which rushed to the rescue. Years of training payed off.
This terrifying story is not the first and probably not the last of it’s kind. You can remember the mysterious problems with F-22 OBOGS. The story there didn’t have a happy end. I remember many months of uncertainty and the lack of a solution which really pissed me off as this baby costs millions and the industry standing behind is worth billions yet it took ages and I can’t tell you if it is fixed as in “fixed” or “well it works and we made some security additions”. We can’t blame Lockheed and especially the people standing behind OBOGS while building it and later rushing to solve the mystery. I can only imagine their sleepless nights while trying to solve this problem. This was one of those situations when everyone, the company, engineers, pilot, maintenance etc. did everything good and it came out bad.
But to be honest – can we dump the OBOGS? Is it really possible to get back to liquid oxygen bottles as with the legacy fighters? This is a dead-end. So we have to move forward and try as hard as it gets with the F-35 and it’s successors. The only way to dump OBOGS is go unmanned and one day we will be there but this won’t happen today or tomorrow. Probably we will see it in our lives in lets say 30-40 years.
This only shows the complexity of a modern fighter. This also tells you why they cost so much. Especially why the R&D phase is sucking so much money. Each and every piece has to be tested individually, and of course it should be ground braking and breath-taking not to mention earth-shaking in the first place, as it is the new best thing in the air we are working at. Then when we have all those best pieces we have to put the blocks together and there it is. A new best fighter. Sounds simple right? But it isn’t because the tricky part starts there. Integrating those little marvels of technology so that they work flawlessly. Thousands of little marvels…
I have started with OBOGS and ended up with the complexity of our world and our war machines. The good old days of P-47, P-51, Spitfire, Hurricane, Fw-190, Bf-109 etc. are long gone. Today an aircraft costs billions of dollars and it takes a while to build it but the most important thing is that it takes very long to train a master of the air who will fly that aircraft. It takes years, literally years of training and a pile of money. Today when you say that live matters you have to think about our fighter pilots as they are the best of the best and we have to take special care of them although they are tough as steel and probably wouldn’t like to be babysit. So we have to do it in the shadows giving them an equipment which will be safe to operate and allow to unleash all of their potential.