The US Navy’s Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) authorised the resumption of flight operations for the McDonnell Douglas T-45C Goshawk jet trainer on October 31, after both the Navy’s and US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) fleets were grounded more than two weeks earlier due to rising safety concerns.
The T-45C fleet had been grounded in what the US Navy dubbed a ‘safety pause’ since October 14, following the discovery of an engine blade failure on the veteran jet trainer aircraft. An investigation was subsequently launched by US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), supported by Rolls-Royce – an industry partner for the T-45C programme and the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the Goshawk’s F405-RR-401 turbofan, the US variant of the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine.
As a result, engineering analysis revealed that a subset of T-45C engine blades did not meet the manufacturer’s engine specifications. While the Goshawk has been cleared to return to flight operations, aircraft that have been identified as suffering from this issue will remain grounded until they are compliant with these manufacturer specifications.
Commenting on the issue and the decision to clear the compliant aircraft for flight operations, Rear Adm Richard Brophy – the US Navy’s CNATRA – said: “The process of returning to operations is based off engineering analysis by NAVAIR, with the most important decision being the safety of our aviators. The aircraft we are flying are verified and known-good. We have the highest confidence in the compliance of these aircraft.”
In the meantime, the US Navy and Rolls-Royce are continuing to evaluate engineering data on the non-conforming parts and will work to gradually return more T-45Cs back to operational status. With a reduced number of Goshawks available, US Navy training units will instead focus on maximising ground training operations, including classroom lectures, simulators and computer-based training.
“While the reintroduction of the T-45C fleet will be a staggered approach, it is not a process that will be rushed. It is essential that our maintenance partners analyse and diagnose this issue thoroughly so training operations can fully resume with the safety of each of our aviators as a top priority,” Brophy added.
This latest ‘safety pause’ marks the second time in five years that the US Navy has been forced to ground its Goshawk fleet. In 2017, the US Navy paused flying operations with the T-45C for three days after more than 100 instructor pilots refused to fly the type, citing concerns about incidents regarding hypoxia that were believed to have been caused by faulty Onboard Oxygen-Generation Systems (OBOGS). The grounding order was extended before being lifted, allowing pilots to fly the Goshawk up to altitudes of 10,000ft (3,048m), as the OBOGS would not be required. The fleet was subsequently upgraded with new sensors to monitor the aircraft’s OBOGS, with the aircraft receiving a new water separation system as well.
A navalised, carrier-capable variant of the UK-built British Aerospace (BAe) Hawk family, the T-45 Goshawk completed its first flight on April 16, 1988. The British aircraft manufacturer - which is now known as BAE Systems - teamed up with McDonnell Douglas to offer the platform to the US. The type entered operational service with the US Navy in 1991, with 221 examples produced in total.