Lt. general: No retaliation against F-22 whistle-blowers
May 8th, 2012
11:05 PM ET

Lt. general: No retaliation against F-22 whistle-blowers

The Air Force won't take disciplinary action against pilots who’ve raised concerns about or refused to fly F-22 Raptors because of reports of cockpit oxygen deprivation, an Air Force official told a Senate panel Tuesday, saying they’re covered by a federal whistle-blower act.

The whistle-blower protection extends to two Virginia Air National Guard pilots who recently talked to CBS’s “60 Minutes” about their refusal to fly the stealth jets, Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee.

“My understanding is that … the chief and the secretary in the Air Force have issued direction that these individuals are protected and that no negative action be taken,” Wolfenbarger told U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts.

The Air Force has been looking into a number of reports that pilots experienced “hypoxia-like symptoms” aboard F-22s since April 2008. Hypoxia is oxygen deficiency.

Wolfenbarger told the subcommittee that 25 reports of hypoxia-like symptoms have been made, including 11 since September, when the service cleared the F-22 fleet to return to service after a four-month grounding for investigation.

The fleet was grounded in May 2011 so that the service could check the hypoxia reports, but the grounding was lifted in September under a “return to flight” plan, with equipment modifications and new rules including daily inspections of the life support systems.

Before the grounding, the jets were limited in January 2011 to altitudes under 25,000 feet because of an investigation into a November 2010 crash.

But the Air Force has yet to pinpoint a cause for the symptoms, prompting a few pilots to refuse to fly the jets, Air Force Gen. Mike Hostage, the head of the service’s Air Combat Command, told reporters earlier this month.

“Either it is an issue with a contaminant getting into the system, or it is an issue with not having enough oxygen coming to our pilots,” Wolfenbarger said Tuesday. “And there are a number of different things that we are reviewing for each of those different categories of root causes.” Part of the problem, she said, might be that pilots fly the F-22 at a higher altitude and execute maneuvers at higher G-forces than they do with other planes.

“I’m not ready to say yet that … we’re ready to declare root cause. But we do feel that we ... through all of those mitigation activities and through the training of the air crews, believe that we are safe to fly,” she told the Senate subcommittee.

Wolfenbarger said Tuesday that the service has implemented or planned to implement 17 steps to protect F-22 crews, including new emergency oxygen deployment handles and putting pulse oximeters on pilots’ fingers so that they can monitor their own oxygen levels and determine early whether they need to fly back to base.

Wolfenbarger stressed that combat commanders still want the plane, which currently is the service’s only next-generation aircraft. Hostage said this month that he didn’t think it was necessary to pull the jets, which he said had 12,000 sorties and 15,000 flight hours since the four-month grounding ended.

Last week, the Air Force received its 195th and final F-22 from Lockheed Martin, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. The publication said the new plane would join the Air Force's operational F-22 fleet of 187 aircraft.

May 7, 2012: Lockheed Martin launches Twitter offensive to defend maligned fighter jets

May 1, 2012: Some pilots won't fly F-22s

September 21, 2011: Air Force's F-22 back in service after 4-month grounding

May 5, 2011: Air Force grounds F-22s over oxygen system concerns

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Filed under: Military • U.S. Air Force
soundoff (156 Responses)
  1. magneticink

    ....take my breath away....

    May 9, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. revnowwhilewecan

    Lol. I bet if they said they refused to fly because they didn't want to bomb a small village with an elementary school.....well so much for whistle-blowing laws. SMH

    May 9, 2012 at 2:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. raven

    Wow. Just, well....wow.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. raven

    Lol@magneticink!

    May 9, 2012 at 3:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mark

    And how do you figure they are cowards? so you would believe a defense contract over two pilots? really, are you that naive???? In testifying they could be saving other pilots – jets are supposed to kill the enemy, not our pilots.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. mmi16

    Nothing worse than a problem that doesn't readily show itself. Higher tech the hardware the harder it is to figure out the root cause of the problem.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Panties

    I salute those brave pilots. We need more like them.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:49 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. mariner v

    Cowards? If the pilots won't get into the plane it tells you everything. The f22's cost a whoppint 412,000 dollars each. The US Goverment ordered 195 of them and none of them have made it into combat missions. You want to talk about wasting tax payer dollars, this is the biggest drain on our budget period. In the meantime, while we waste money on this BS, we can't get Congress to pass a jobs bill to grow the economy but they can waste billions on projects like the f22 that lines the pocket of shareholders of Lockheed/Martin. This is nothing more than Corporate/Military Welfare. Recently, another military contractor pitched the White House for the Osprey Helicopter. The White House declined. "Sorry, we"re familiar with the history of the crashes, not a good option for the President" When will Americans get tired of politiicians hustling the public using the military and partiotism to bankrupt the country. The military budget has doubled since 2001. As noted recently by a journalist, it cost Osama Bin Laden 500,000 to fund the mission to take down the towers in New York. The US has spent close to 3 trillion dollars to respond. I don't know about you but just about anybody could do a better job than these clowns. Lets get rid of all of them at the next election before they all take us over a cliff.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:59 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • mariner v

      I just read my post and offer a correction here. I meant to say 412 million dollars not thousand. I was typing quickly and over shot, just like the f22 I might add. In any event sorry for the oversight.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Sharkman

      400 thousand? It is more like 350 million per plane.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Cheese Wonton

      That $412 million figure is the cost to buy the airplane and operate it for 25 or 30 years. It includes the cost of the original airplane, all the fuel oil and lubricants it will use, pilot and squadron personnel wages, facilities like hangers, ground support equipment specific to that airplane, periodic overhauls at depots, all routine spare parts and consummables (tires, brakes and the like), travel for training, in short dime spent to own and later dispose of that aircraft.
      The flyaway cost, the price of a single ready to fly airplane for the F-22 is $150 million. For comparison sake, both Singapore and South Korea paid in excess of $110 million flyaway cost per aircraft for their most recent F-15 buys, and that is a 40 year old design with a more modern radar and fire control system, but no stealth features at all. Total ownership cost for an F-15 is well in excess of $300 million. All modern combat jets are expensive beasts.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. fawker

    As the air force repair technician was a "suck and blow" test is for oxygen control panels. Watch how nervous and sketchy he becomes. The actual oxygen control regulator panel is probably the same that is used on almost all of the aircraft in the airforce. The official regulator tester fails all of the panels (new and old) almost every time it is used. So a lot of maintainers resort to a "suck and blow" test, which isn't nearly as effective. The more you know...

    May 9, 2012 at 5:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Hawk

    Active Duty, regular Air Force officers would never hide behind Whistleblowers Act and publicly display such insubordination. If they are too scared to honorably do their duty, these two should resign. If we had more like them in uniform, we wouldn't need a military as there would be no country to protect.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • cliff

      Blind faith , and following orders is a poor excuse of human existance. I believe in the chain of command but stupidity is stupidity. Part of the problem is that military personell evaluating new systems ( while on active duty ) end up working extreamly profitable job for the same contractors building the systems. Conflict of interest and dangerous since these guy will never have to depend on these flawed systems. Remember the sargent york.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:40 am | Report abuse |
    • mariner v

      Your comment illustrates the mentality of the authorities that act irresponsibly and then expect their subordinates to pick up the tab for their idiotic behavior. These men are to be commended for having the courage to come forward and tell the truth about the f22. Only an idiot would make the kind of comment you have made here.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |
    • rugbyball

      @Hawk, you spew B.S. Soldiers serve and die for their country, not to serve as test subjects for contractors and die for their flaws and poor design.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • 6Cobra

      Hawk, unless you are a F-22 pilot, do us all a favor and stow it.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. cliff

    The costs of these aircraft is unbelievable, ( russian etc have the same problem ) Over priced aircraft, systems that don't work, planes that technically can beat a pilot until he/she passes out, ( G are really high ) with their manuverability. And spend way too many hours in the repair bays for each hour of flight. Getting to the point that drones are far cheaper to have since there is no need for life support , crew can be changed during flight many times, hover time is almost endless ( not sure if you can refuel the drones in air ) but what an idea. pilot on board is almost an after thought . Then there is the amount of profits generated building and maintaining then.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. John

    I agree. You are a military pilot and you refuse to fly because it is too dangerous? Imagine how much more dangerous our Army and Marines have it with boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Imagine if they just said, Well, I refuse to fight because it is too dangerous and you haven't given me safe enough body armor or powerful enough guns, so I refuse to fight. This is a great example our leaders are setting. What a bunch of pansies.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wayne Burkett

      I don't believe these guys refused to fly. They refused to fly this particular aircraft until a particular problem is resolved. As a pilot of nearly fifty years I can tell you that if I found a problem during a preflight and chose to ignore the problem and fly the aircraft anyway, well I am sure my flying career would have ended many years ago. The military doesn't spend millions of dollars trainning pilots how to kill themselves and distroy billions of dollars worth of aircraft unecessarily. Very good, well proven aircraft will kill a stupid pilot.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
    • NeutralMind

      Wayne: Many of those who are commenting here have no idea how the aviation world goes. Your comment is perhaps the only one here that's made any sense to my aerospace engineer's mind!

      May 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • jnpa

      You are comparing these pilots with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, which is absurd. They are not refusing to fly because they might get shot down, they are refusing to fly a plane that might kill them just flying to a war zone. Totally different!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      It's not about refusing to do a job because of how dangerous it is. it is about the danger caused because the equipment is not what it is suppose to be. You used the example of an Army soldier or a Marine with boots on the ground (I am retired Army) if my weapon was deficiant in any way because there was a defect in the way it would fire, like if the barrel blew up after so many shots, you bet I would raise holy hell about it. These pilots did the same thing. A system that they RELY on to keep them safe is deficient (not because someone is shooting at them or something caused by someone else) they refused.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • rugbyball

      @John, this is an equipment failure not a personnel failure. If you had to compare it to a ground force, this would be something like a M1A1 tank crew becomes overcome by Carbon Monoxide randomly and almost dies and they looked into the exhaust and they say it’s not coming from the engine exhaust, but have no idea where it’s coming from so they put the tank back into service.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • rlh8t

      your analogy is wrong. The airplane is a tool pilots use to accomplish their mission. This tool allows them to go into harms way and come back alive. If this tool is faulty and they pass out they will die. The correct analogy is sending a solider into battle with a faulty gun. If they go into a fire fight and their gun does not shoot they will die. This is the most expensive fighter jet we have ever made. We should hold contractors responsible for delivering the quality product that Tax payers paid for. When your willing to fly supersonic at 30,000 feet with low oxygen then you can call people names. Until then be respectful of the people willing to do what others wont/ can't

      May 9, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • BBQ

      Do you understand what hypoxia is? Do you understand that each of these jets costs $200 million and that multiple copies have already crashed, killing their pilots as a result of hypoxia? In short, you're an idiot. the equivalent in your banal and obviously undereducated life would be getting into a car that you knew was going to blow up because you needed to go to work.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • j

      @John I respectfully disagree. This is not like giving body armor that is not good enough. This is like giving a soldier a weapon that will at random shoot the user and not the enemy without notice or because the soldier did anything wrong. They could just be holding it and bam it turns and shoots you in the head because it's defective and everybody knows it but they're willing to let you pay the price so they can sell more. The enemy needs to try and kill you not the weapon system you use to kill the enemy.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
    • 6Cobra

      Soldiers and Marines have stated their unwillingness to go into combat with deficient gear in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple times, regarding both vehicle and body armor. That's why the top brass finally got off their kiesters and rapidly developed better gear. How patriotic of you to equip our troops and pilots with shoddy, dangerous gear and then expect them to take it into combat with a big smile on their face – just as long as they don't criticise those all-important defense contractrors and aquisition processes!

      May 9, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
    • aa34

      no john its actually like giving soldiers and marines boots with landmines in them and telling them some will die at the hands of the enemy and some will be blown up by their boots even if we don't see the enemy. heck they may get you while your sleeping. Good Luck!

      May 9, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • WorkingInVA

      John,

      The jet is not currently in combat, so they are not refusing to fight. They are refusing to fly stateside training sorties due to the fact that the F-22 appears to have a serious problem with its oxygen system.

      Not every piece of military equipment is perfect, and all military members accept that. It's a different story when your equipment can kill you because of a design flaw. Plenty of military members will not accept that, and I applaud them for it.

      Military members realize that combat is dangerous, and that no piece of equipment will protect you against every threat the enemy can throw at you. Being killed by the enemy is one thing, being killed by your own faulty equipment is quite another.

      If Soldiers and Marines could suffocate while riding in an MRAP or other vehicle, I assure you they would be raising hell. They're tough, but they're not stupid.

      I think that's really the key here, John, not being stupid.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • JHL

      @John,

      Explain to me again your flying experience and your expertise to comment. It's not clear in your jingoistic rantings exactly what you have to add to the discussion other than the normal "used to" and "back in my day" views of life.

      If these pilots die because of faulty aircraft, i'm sure you'll be among the mourners from afar.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • JD

      Their refusal to fly is due to a 'defect' in a system that keeps them alive, not because they're afraid... Tell you what, go drive your car with no brakes and then get back to me about them being 'pansies'.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • IgnoranceIsYourBliss

      You do understand, from reading the story correctly of course, that the reason the pilots will not fly is due to oxygen deprivation. So please overlook your statement, it has nothing to do with " powerful enough guns" or "body armor". Its about the life of an American F-22 pilot. So I suggest you reread the article before you make yourself look like even more of a fool.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Pete McNeal

      Stupid analogy. A more correct one would be more like Army and Marines refuse to fight because you gave them a rifle that can't shoot or blows your fingers off.
      Raptor drivers are the best trained and professional fighter pilots in the world. If they refuse to fly it it means something is seriously wrong. For you to suggest they are cowards while hiding behind your computer shows how small of a man you really are.
      Stop being a partisan quack and get back to the hole you came out from.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Not even close to the same John. What if they sent your Marines to battle with a rifle that had the chance of blowing up in their hands and killing them on occasion? Do you think they would want to use it? You know the enemy is trying to end your life but your own equipment shouldn't help them achieve that goal.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      You sir are an idiot...2 things pilots are really really expensive to train and F-22's are really really really expensive. We can ill afford to lose either.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • NODAT1

      so your saying that our ground forces should use weapons that have been know to blow up in their face

      May 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      John,
      I think your comparison is a bit flawed. They aren’t saying they are afraid of an enemy jet shooting them down, they are afraid the jet could kill them due to a flaw. If the Marines or Army boots on the ground thought their gun would blow up 1 out of 5 times do you think they would still pull the trigger on that gun? If they felt their superior didn’t take the concern seriously what would they do to protect themselves and other Americans?

      May 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      The plane needs a pilot to be effective. The pilot needs oxygen to be effective. If the plane doesn't give the pilot oxygen, neither can be effective, and that is more of a hindrance to the battlefield and severely limits the aircraft's usefulness if it has to remain below 15,000 ft. Not cowardly, smart. It would be like giving the foot soldier a rifle with no bullets. You have the equipment but can't use it properly.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrStylz

      You do realize that people were killed over this, right? They were literally breathing in engine coolant... If someone told you to drive to work with your A/C system blowing oil and coolant particulates into the cabin, you'd skip work that day, too.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crow

      John

      tell the army and marines to go to a battle using a weapon that doesnt work and lets see what they tell you.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      John, clearly you've never flown a fighter or been in combat. Death in the skies is very real. A fighter pilot's life isn't the serene ride you experience when you're flying commercial airlines to see your family. Unlike bullets fired at ground troops that go in straight lines once fired, pilots have to deal with missles that can turn on a dime and follow them, exploding their aircraft in a fireball from a half-mile away. I would challenge you to walk into a bar full of pilots and say those words. Of course you wouldn't. You're too busy acting macho. I'm pretty sure if you were put in an air combait situation, you'd fill your flight suit with the contents of your bowels. Grow up.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • TC

      Agreed. This got media coverage and they are ANG so no reprisal for going outside the chain of command – pure bs.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOHNCHASE1

      Your post makes NO sense whatsoever. It's apples and oranges...did you even read the story??

      May 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      You're a complete idiot and your comparison doesn't even make sense. The pilots are refusing to fly because there is a chance they could be killed by their own weapon (in this case the plane), that's like a Marine going to war with a rifle that occasionally explodes in the users face. Would you be okay using a rifle like that in a warzone? Didn't think so.

      May 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KillPoachers

    China will smash up the f-22!

    May 9, 2012 at 5:53 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Hal VT

    On the other hand, what is the hypoxia rate in drone pilots? Those guys are going to combat with a chili dog and a Mountain Dew. If we're going to overspend on defense – in light of our historical lack of stomach for "real war" casualty numbers – we ought to be spending on UAVs that can be piloted from, say, Topeka.

    As for accusations of cowardice, feel free to strap your own butt into an oxygen-deprivation machine for God and country. Doesn't sound too smart, does it?

    May 9, 2012 at 5:58 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. J Olsen

    F-22s are one of the coolest war planes around. Too bad about the O2 problems. I hope they can fix the problem. I wouldn't want the lives of our fighter pilots in danger over a manufacturing flaw no matter how cool the plane is.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
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