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. todd007

    This is a "breath" in the right direction. What is now needed is someone at the contractor to come forward (even if in a Qui Tam whistle-blower lawsuit) to disclose what they knew of this problem and when they knew it. This stuff just does not happen overnight....it looks to be a systemic problem that should have been identified much earlier.....these oxygen systems are in use in many other fighter aircraft with no such problems. So says this Retired USAF person. The F-22 was first built and designed in the late 1980's as the Advance Tactical Fighter, long before being named Raptor.....yes I said 1980's. Prototypes built in 1989; flew in early 90's. So we are talking of a problem that has been "hidden" for almost 20 years? The contractor will get millions to "mod" the oxygen system to that in use on another fighter without these problems ...sort of reminds me of that square filter and round box on Apollo 13.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. John Kaufman, Oceanside, CA

    I saw the comments both these pilots made on 60 minutes and both appeared to be very qualified officers as well as excellent pilots. What they said and how they expressed themselves was exactly right, just fix the DAMM air flow problem, but ground the aircraft until it is completely fixed, hypoxia is a serious problem. These pilots are worth a lot of money as to their skills and can not be easly replaced.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. net

    These pilots careers are over. I don't care what the law says or what the General says. It's all BS and we all know it. The good news is that these pilots had the courage to step forward. They have saved lives – possibly their own.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      I was gonna say something, but you pretty well covered it.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Sid Prejean

      Net,
      You said it all.
      Sid Prejean
      LtCol, USAF, Retired

      May 9, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jon

    Defense contractors run the show basically, and they pay large sums of money to do so. Admiral Rickenbacker was the last flag officer to combat against the defense industry, and the defense industry won and even brags about it to this day.

    The great thing about cost overruns is that even if insurance picks it up, the US government is the insurance for the defense industry, it is a lose-lose situation.

    I assure everyone that our military presence and conflicts will not go away, the US foreign policy machine will create new conflicts as part of the military industrial complex, Eisenhower warned us, Admiral kimmel predicted it, and Admiral Rickenbacker fought and lost against it.

    .

    May 9, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Str8Vision

      All true. As a military retiree I can say these men will indeed be punished by the brass in ways that are subjective and hard to prove. Bad assignments, deployments, missions, lack of promotions and etc. The federal government doesn't like it's dirty little secrets aired and besides, the typical American doesn't really care unless it affects them personally.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Sam Parker

      It's Adm. RICKOVER not Rickenbacker

      May 9, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      No worries as the current wars has clearly shown the USAF is now a cold war remnant minor player looking for a mission to be relevant. As such once the big defense cuts hit next year you watch what happens to their mega pork projects(which in many cases was forced on them by the corrupt Congress).

      May 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rad666

    Of course nothing will overtly happen to them while this is news. As it fades from the news, they will suffer in a couple of years

    May 9, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      Absolutely. Their careers are finished. Too bad.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Oscar Pitchfork

    So they don;t have the technology to install air sampling devies somewhere in the line supplying air to the pilots facemasks? I don;t believe that, unless they are so steeped in ritual and dogma that it hasn;t occurred to anyone yet.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      I don't think this article is about the catholic church.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. srichey321

    Nice to see these guys come forward on this. If we are going to give a gazillion dollars paying for equipment and training these people then we can at least make sure it isn't faulty. Anyone that has been in the military has experienced, in one form or another, weird, senseless bureaucratic decisions with make no sense (senseless to the people put in danger). People are willing to die for their country, but should not be expected to die for a corporations profits and reputation.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. St Xavier

    It's all about MONEY MONEY MONEY for the fat cats NOT LIVES.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. QuietStormX

    To me it's stupid to ground these F22's just because of some little life support issue. This little thing is suspected of causing some to crash when their Pilot's blacked out. I thought these planes were able to save themselves if the pilot couldn't pull their self out. But to ground these planes for this simple and little thing is stupid. Plus don't the Airforce train for this....

    May 9, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • James Taylor

      Is like saying that people get trained to get out of a room that has CO. That is how dumb you sound in here.

      "Yeap I am passed out or almost there with zero O2 may as well be dead drunk... Let me pull the lever to get out of this plane at 50,000 feet or higher."

      May 9, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mercenary76

    just another reason that the usa is fading into third world nation status . as for anyone that goes outside of the chain of command there is a letter in their jacket that will curtail any further need to be in the military . too many people get too much money from these contracts , the actual supplied product is secondary .

    May 9, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • cee

      Dude I have been to dozens of third world countries and by your comment I can tell that you haven't visited such places if you think the U.S. is becoming one. Also go read the article again as their is nothing negative happening to these pilots.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. Paul P

    Putting pulse oximetery devices on the pilots are a noble idea, however, they are not the ideal device to monitor hypoxia. If the military wants the best for the pilots, they should utilize etCO2 (end tidal CO2) monitors. They will pick up immediate drops in oxygen levels, where as, a pulse oximetry device may not detect drops in oxygen levels for a full 60-90 seconds after oxygen levels have dropped. A side by side comparison where both a pulse oximeter and etCO2 monitor are used with the subject holding their breath will easily demonstrate this point. One will note the etCO2 monitor detects the hypoxic event very quickly, where as, the pulse oximeter notes the hypoxia 1-2 minutes later. A lot can happen in 60-90 seconds when you are hypoxic.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Rico Informant

    These two Virginia Air National Guard pilots need to be committed to a mental hospital under court order so they will be protected as government "informants" or the military-industrial MAFIA will hunt them down with stinger ground-to-air missles and destroy the evidence... the defective F-22 Raptors. Special agents Spampinato and Osbourne are being dispatched to Virginia and will meet the pilots in ER Room #2 at the hospital on the US Air Force base. Doctor Shapiro is standing by with vials of haldol and syringes to quiet things down.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Marc

    They had wire chafing problems with the F-16 that got pilots killed when it was new in service. The (believe it was) f-4 had no gun because the government thought dog fights were a thing of the past. They realized they were losing pilots and made a gun pod for it, saving hundreds of pilots lives in Vietnam, while allowing them to more effectively engage and kill the enemy. For pilots to not want to die from a flawed design should be totally acceptable. They should ground those planes with the problem, compare it to those that don't have the problem and actually figure out why instead of endangering our men. Even if it is due to g forces etc, and not an issue with the airplanes, maybe they need to re-evaluate the fitness requirements for pilots of this particular plane. Simply shrugging and putting pilots in those planes shouldn't be acceptable.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. R. Dem Real

    If the F-22 Raptors were Made In China, the Pentagon would not have any problems with those aircraft. The problem exists because of the poor quality work done by unionized American workers that are overpaid and lazy. Send all US military weapon systems production to China and save the US tax-payer billions of dollars. WalMart can be the US based distributor for the Pentagon's toys. That's the ticket!

    May 9, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. F-18 Egress Mech

    No oxygen? Punch out...see how fast the prob gets fixed.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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