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. GAB

    This plane is not ment for humans to fly.... it is way to strong- the computer on board makes sure that they cannot do moves in the air because it will kill them. just like a car driving 400mph

    May 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. John

    So, in other words, we would have otherwise extracted their anuses and quartered them.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. danny

    These men should be applauded for addressing this issue and not being 'YES' men.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. CommonSensed

    Ask the 5 why's and forget about costs. Oh wait – they simply can't forget about costs – or the perceived embarrassment of grounding again to do another RCA. Foolish politics getting in the way of pilot safety.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. fip fipe

    Why would any whistle blower face retailiation? If something is wrong, bring it up, point it out, get it fixed. Yes I know people work everyday in fear of retailiation.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Yes, it's interesting that it's newsworthy that they won't face retaliation, as if retaliation has become the most common outcome, rather than the other way around.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Limbaugh is a liberal

    I would love to work for a military contractor like Lockheed Martin. You get limited or no bid contracts with little or no oversight. When you run over time and over cost, the government gives you more money. When you screw up your own construct, the government gives you more money.
    How many other jobs are out there where if you keep screwing up year after year you are awarded even more money?

    May 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • bcd02

      Any government or government contractor job.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bravo Shocker

    The F-22 was a waste of taxpayers money regardless of what we've been told. The plane can't even fly during stormy weather. It's skin can't even survive small arms fire. The pilots can't even talk to each other and now oxygen deprivation. What else is new?

    May 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. TruthtoPower

    It is a new day. Very few administrations would allow an active member of the military / government to speak publicly without consequences – with or without making protected disclosures by filing for whistle blower protection. Remember, "you are either with us, or against us?" It is time that employees are free to disclose when agencies fail to do the right thing through the normal supervisory / decision making process. I give the USAF high marks for this decision; it is still unusual in federal government workplaces. Just ask the National Park ranger who blew the whistle on Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for illegally clear cutting trees...

    May 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. zorua dude

    Fox: "Check your G-diffusor system."

    Falco: "Falco here, I'm fine."

    later....

    Falco: "Something's wrong with the G-diffusor!"

    *gets shot down*

    May 9, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. mikrik13

    LOL The Whistleblower Act. You blow the whistle in the military and sooner or later it will come back on you. If these 2 pilots are smarty they will leave before the "non related" hammer falls.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. aero

    Pilots, specifically jet-fighter pilots, ain't your usual breed. Imagine, if you will, taking your hot little sports car out on the freeway and running that dog up to 1,000 mph while blowing away anybody if they get too freaking close to you. Yet, some posters appear to expect these pilots to display the same heel-and-toe behavior of their wife's whipped poodle.
    People, It ain't gonna happen.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. John

    Combat boots? I don't need no stinking combat boots! I could go into battle barefoot...or even without my pants if necessary. Hell, sometimes I may even forget to take my weapon! Call me a pansy, will you?

    May 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Brian Gillespie

    You might try the filter, used in closed circuit system for Anesthesia. Maybe the charcoal filters are being compromised by the air and/O2feeds coming through the Jett's engines. Perhaps there's a chemical reaction between charcoal and jet fuel. (carbon monoxide,for example)

    May 9, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. AF Buke

    There won't be any official retaliations, but those officers will never be promoted again. It's a fighter pilot mafia that runs the USAF, if you step out of line or say anything that runs contrairy to the party line, your career is done. If you don't believe that, you've never worn the uniform. I did for 24 years, have seen it happen to a number of people.

    May 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. nolongerarepublican

    We could have bought the Typhoon Euro Fighter for a lot less money and had a better aircraft.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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