One crew member has returned to flight status and another is expected to fully recovery following a Jan. 29 mishap aboard an EA-18G Growler from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, according to Naval Air Forces spokesman Cmdr. Ron Flanders.
The harrowing incident, however, has raised concerns about the safety of the Growler and related aircraft. The anti-jet noise group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, sees the incident as another example of how Growlers and related aircraft are unsafe.
Flanders said in a statement that safety is the No. 1 priority of naval aviation, “across every type, model and series of aircraft.”
“The proven safety and reliability of the F/A-18 platform is the basis for the Growler,” he said. “The platform in late 2017 reached 10 million flight hours, an unprecedented achievement in naval aviation.”
Defense News first reported on the incident, citing an internal Navy report. Flanders confirmed that the event occurred and said the story was “generally accurate.”
The Growler was cruising at 25,000 feet on the way from NAS Whidbey to Naval Weapons Station China Lake when the crew received a warning that the environmental control system was icing, Defense News reported.
The temperature in the cockpit dropped to minus 30 degrees Farenheit, and the instruments and windows iced over, forcing the two-person aircrew to fly almost completely blind.
The crew and ground-based controllers managed to guide the Growler back to NAS Whidbey, the Defense News article reported.
Both members of the crew suffered severe frostbite and blistering to their hands.
Flanders said the in-flight incident is being investigated.
The Defense News article states that problems with the environmental control system in the F/A-18 platform have been persistent, though the specific failure was unique.
COER, the Central Whidbey group that protests Growler noise, is questioning the safety record of the aircraft.
“It was a miracle that these two pilots made it home alive in an aircraft that has been plagued by on-going unsolved safety problems,” Maryon Attwood, president of COER, said in a statement.
Both the story and COER point to an incident two years ago when two Growler crew members were severely injured. The cockpit over-pressurized and exploded, shattering the canopy.
Flanders said the incident was unrelated to the recent one.