Some pilots won't fly F-22s until cause of oxygen deprivation in cockpit solved
May 1st, 2012
11:30 AM ET

Some pilots won't fly F-22s until cause of oxygen deprivation in cockpit solved

A few pilots have told the Air Force they won't fly their expensive F-22 Raptor stealth jets because no cause has been found for oxygen deprivation incidents in the cockpit, the head of Air Combat Command for the U.S. Air Force told reporters.

The Air Force has been looking for the cause of about a dozen unexplained incidents related to hypoxia, or oxygen deficiency, with pilots, but so far has been unable to pinpoint it, Gen. Mike Hostage with Air Combat Command said in a media briefing.

Hostage noted it was a very small group of pilots who opposed flying the Raptors. Pilots began experiencing problems starting four years ago.

“For some reason, the on-board oxygen generating system and the environmental control system that feeds it may be inputting some contaminant,” Gen. Gregory Martin, a retired Air Force veteran, told CNN affiliate WAVY in Virginia.

Hostage said if a contaminant is not the problem, there may be something else hindering pilots from getting enough oxygen.

Hostage spoke at length with reporters about the issue, which has plagued the fleet since problems with the F-22’s oxygen supply system were first reported in 2008.  The jets have previously been grounded to examine the issue , but one year ago the Raptors were again cleared and allowed to fly. In January 2011,  the jets were limited to altitudes under 25,000 feet during an ongoing investigation into a November 2010 crash. Flying above that altitude could cause a pilot to black out from lack of oxygen and lose control.

"We are diligently pursuing a variety of hypotheses to try and understand and characterize the exact circumstances we've been experiencing," he said.

The Air Combat Command said it still has not identified the "root cause" of the oxygen issue, but is making progress with its investigation and hopes to soon determine the exact cause of the problem.

“The smoking gun is disassembled in a mosaic in front of us. ... At some point we’re going to have the smoking gun assembled,” Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, the director of operations for ACC, told the Air Force Times.

While Hostage said that there was certainly a concern about the group of incidents, he didn't think it was necessary to pull the entire group of jets, which have had 12,000 deployments and a total of 15,000 flight hours since September 11 and only  a handful of problems. The Air Force has also made sure to add new emergency oxygen deployment handles, should a pilot encounter any issues.

And the F-22s are still being used when needed, including  a recent deployment by the Air Force of a squadron of the Raptors to southwest Asia.

"I fully expect we'll get to a solution," Hostage said. "I won't give you a timetable, but we have made great progress to that effect and am confident we'll put this behind, we'll be able to explain it, and we'll retool the airplane to make this problem go away."

Read more on the F-22's oxygen problems:

Air Force's F-22 back in service after 4-month grounding

Air Force grounds F-22s over oxygen system concerns 

Filed under: Military • U.S. Air Force
soundoff (309 Responses)
  1. Troyzkoi

    I can tell you the first time a laid my eyes on a F-22 Raptor was in 1999 in a Hangar at a NASA instilation where I was working. I was 5 ft. away from this thing, my jaw dropped to the floor, and I instantly fell in love. What a sight, what a piece of machinery. The last time I saw it was when it was being moved into the wind tunnel for testing.
    So if these pilots want to go on strike, I will glady offer to be trained to fly one of these dream machines. Like the article said, there has been a very small handfull of incidences. They will get the problem figured out, and have installed emergency oxygen deployment handles, per the article . The Pilots that are still flying the F-22's are having the time of their lives WHILE TRAINING in F-22's. When duty calls the feelings are ALOT DIFFERENT, but I can only guess that they will have confidence in their New Raptors.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sandman

    Every new bird has issues. When they all get worked out they are great and everyone forgets them. Tomcats had issues and went on to be a great ride. Ole Smokey (F-4) also had teething issues. They all do.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Campbell

      New bird? She's got 20+ years on her!! And the F-4 was the flying brick. With catastrophic engine failure it had the same glide ratio of a brick.

      May 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Garden Valley 6

    Marines don't have F-22's. Doesn't serve their purpose. They need CAS.They do have V-22's that have had their problems in the past. Most notably Marana. V-22 is too much of a Teckhie type of aircraft. Yes, it has greater distance and some speed but you don't need speed when you are dropping off assult forces. You are looking for agile, hostile and mobile in an aircraft. This really is designed for a commercial application. But it's painted green so that makes it Military (?)

    May 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dave Kovalak

    I don't know why you wouldn't ground all F-22's until the problem was resolved. The last thing the Air Force needs are senseless non-combat fatalities.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • CNNreader

      Or a F-22 going down in enemy territory (a la RQ-170 going down in Iran).

      May 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. That Guy

    Tell pilot to quit sitting on Oxygen Hose !

    May 1, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mikebo

    You can't take one of these to the body shop to replace a fender.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Myto Senseworth

    Get a seperat sensor to alert the polot and put a spare bottle of O2 on the aircraft.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • General Norton A. Schwartz

      Oh Gosh why didn't I think of that

      May 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • zooni

      They don't know if it is caused by contaminant, meaning their lungs fill with oxygen and something else. So they may well be getting enough oxygen.

      May 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Campbell

      Actually, no. the contaminant may be inhibiting the oxygen. Thereby, the pilot would not get enough.

      May 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mervin

    Bombs away echo niner!

    May 1, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Plad The Imvailer

    It's Hubert Humphrey's fault.
    Honest to god.
    It is.

    I mean it.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Deep6

    F-15 Eagles forever!!

    May 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • CNNreader


      May 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Campbell

      Yeah, about that....

      May 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dale

    So if there is a problem they cannot find rip that whole system out, put in the F15 Eagle system in, we know it works good.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jimbo0117

    Why should Lockheed Martin care? They've already made their billions off of the R&D and production of this aircraft, and the AF isn't buying any more.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dale

    Put in the F-15 Eagle system we know it works good

    May 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • english teacher

      works "well", not "good"

      May 1, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. palintwit

    If I was Sarah Palin I'd run and find the nearest bread slicing machine and stick my head in it.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Degrin

    We already wasted countless billions of dollars into this moneypit...i mean..project.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
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