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T-6s stuck on ground at Vance after pilots report lack of oxygen

ENID, Okla. - The flight path at Vance Air Force Base is a little more crowded these days because all of the T-6 planes are parked, not flying.

The base put the approximately 100 planes on “operational pause” last Thursday after several different pilots reported symptoms of what’s called hypoxia.

“This was more than normal quite frankly in this short of period. So, that’s what kind of said, okay, we want to make sure that this is, we take a assessment of what’s going on at this point,” said Colonel Darrell Judy.

Three instructor pilots and one student pilot have experienced the symptoms since November 1.

Hypoxia basically means the body is getting less oxygen than it needs, and the symptoms can vary.

“They’re different for every person quite frankly. So, some common symptoms of that can be like tingling in the fingers. Some people feel maybe cold or heat on their skin,” Judy said.

Judy said their pilots experienced disorientation.

They wear helmets with masks that deliver their primary source of oxygen.

But, the planes also contain a backup.

“It’s basically an oxygen bottle that’s in the ejection seat. It’s part of that mechanism, and it’s a independent oxygen system that they can utilize,” Judy said.

The pilots at Vance AFB were able to use that backup oxygen and land the planes safely.

An investigation is now ongoing.

“Right now we’ve got our engineers, we have some maintenance folks and we have some aerospace medicine folks looking at some of the aircraft systems, primarily the oxygen system to make sure if we identify if there are any problems with the system,” Judy said.

So far, he said they have not found any problems.

The T-6 is the main training plane at Vance.

Having them on the ground has put a pause in training schedules, but Judy said students are still learning.

“Flying training is just a piece of this. But, there’s also ground training that they’re doing. There’s also simulator training, and they’re doing some professional development training,” Judy said.

There is no timeline right now for how long the investigation could take.