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. Peirre

    I know exactly where the finger should point. At the contractor that puts profit above all else. They even fly a banner that everyone trust (it was bought in another cover-up)this Corporation is our Presidents top adviser and $upplier of fund$. This Co. even manufacture the OBOGS In another country. Most likely to avoid TAXE$. this ECONOMIC TERRORIST Needs to be exposed! Before the US is ? H-oneyw-ELL

    May 9, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. Face the facts

    "The Air Force won't take disciplinary action against pilots.. " Formally, no. But their careers are doomed. The "good old boy, you watch my back, I'll watch yours and we'll do as we please" cult is alive and well in the military just as it is in the corporate world.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. KIRK/JACKSON

    Corruption is killng our country, unspeakable lies, horrific consequences, and we are forced into political correctness? while our young men and women get blown apart by i.e.d's. which bybthe way will likely kill you when found, and why look for them in places we dont plan on treversing? are we trying to kill them? all the misery, mentally and physically broken men, all for blood money for bush and cheeney, wake up, your enemy is here, greed, corruption, and politics, very ugly, and destructive, something needs to change, but it will only worsen

    May 9, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. mbane

    If there is an issue with the oxygen supply, than no one should be flying these things. If your work place stated depriving you of oxygen, would you stay there? Of course not. People's lives are on the line and calling them whisleblowers is just ridiculous.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. USA401

    Its funny how we have a culture that punishes people for reporting flaws or criminal activity in government and private organizations.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      It's the new American way.PNAC

      May 9, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      Remember Challenger? It took an act of Congress for those people who said that they shouldn't launch THE NIGHT BEFORE to keep their jobs.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. KIRK/JACKSON

    God bless america

    May 9, 2012 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. KIRK/JACKSON

    No problems, so this is all just b.s.? the fact that the gov. even acknowledges an issue suggets far worse, glad youve had no problems, but obviously others have. still corruption in defense contracts, how small of a %, on a multi billion $ contract does it take to cover kickbacks, and if it were wall steet there would be hel.l to pay

    May 9, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    These pilots aren't whistleblowers, they just don't want to die.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  9. mikedenney

    I saw two of these guys on TV last week (20/20 or something), and they both seemed pretty gung-ho to me. Not only did they say they loved being pilots–but BOTH claimed to love the Raptor so much that they couldn't wait to fly again. When pilots are that commited to a questionable project, it's almost time to weigh in the value of the planes as significant enough to merit a redesign of their oxygen systems.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. Lou Cypher

    Of course they will not face sanction, they are officers.

    If they were enlisted, they would already have been reduced-in-rate, be serving 45/45, and awaiting their Big Chicken Dinner.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • gizmoelite

      This is so true it's not even funny. Any E-7 and above get special privileges when it comes to refusing orders or any of the like.

      @jpna It's no different than Marines or soldiers in Iraq getting inside humvees with no armor whatsoever, going on patrol in the beginning of the war. They still had to do their job even though small arms fires can rip through their vehicle, let alone a RPG.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  11. mrPhillip

    They can say 'no reprisals', but will anyone listen? Just the media.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. ThatAliensGuy

    Gotta be that Chinese UFO doing this, bro.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jimbo111

    Problems with first gen aircraft are nothing new! F14, computer fly by wire killed several pilots and nearly scrapped the plane before it was fixed and now it's a work horse and even airliners use fly by wire now. Osprey, how many times did that airplane almost get canceled due to problems, crashes and cost over-runs and now, there is no other aircraft that can do what the Osprey can do. Relax, the concepts are sound, and the problems will be fixed. Neither aircraft is a "B-1."

    May 9, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. Francis

    The chain of command is everything, and all-important. Those pilots have risen through the ranks as far as they ever will.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  15. John P. Tarver

    Cut these junk aircraft up and stop wasting money on them.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
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