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. cnnsukz

    Maybe it is the computer chips we buy from China. Maybe they are "pulling" G's they cannot handle. a computer virus. Or a bunch of wuzzies. Whaever it is, is costing a lot of money. If they can't find a solution to the problem, then just buy the cheap version from China (the one they copied). I'm sure it will at least be only 5% of the cost from what we pay.

    May 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. pos

    The worlds most sophisticated fighter cannot fly over 25000 ft. Priceless!

    May 1, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Yossarian

    What kind of ransom do you suppose Mike Hostage is waiting for?

    May 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CGDoc

    ...and officers in the US Air Force can just refuse to fly F-22's? "I don't want to fly that mission because it might be unsafe." Sounds like time for some General Discharges.

    May 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • JanandHarry

      If a pilot is willing to take this step, then there is a problem. When I worked maintenance in the Air Force, I wouldn't release an aircraft as FMC (Fully Mission Capable) if there was something I wasn't comfortable with.

      May 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • rktman71

      Not just unsafe for the pilots but unsafe for the missions they support.

      May 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • BBPatriot

      What ever happened to listening to the troops on the ground (or, in this case, in the air)?

      When it fits a certain politics, its insubordination. Matched to the same conservative politics, they're experts even over the Comander in Chief.

      I'm all for the chain of command, but what these pilots are telling us exposes what the military doiesn't want to admit: these planes were misdesigned from the start.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • JRH

      So are you volunteering for a suicide mission? Didn't think so. Try keeping your lid on unless you know what you're talking about.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • jweller

      Being killed by a foe is different than being killed by a friend (flawed equipment)

      May 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sylar75

      Yeah but you don't want a pilot passing out and crashing a 40 million dollar jet either. Or however much they cost. Probably closer to 100 million. And the obvious reason is the pilots. Even if you don't value human life how much money is spent training them to fly planes like this?

      May 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reggie Bush

      Pilots never have to get into an aircraft that they do not feel safe with. From day one of flight school until they decide to hang it up, going flying is never something that one does under duress.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      How about we "discharge" the people in charge of putting these aircraft, their pilots, and the missions in which they are supporting, in severe danger.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik1325

      Get a clue. Flying training sorties in a craft with proven defects versus refusing to complete a combat mission – two different things. "General discharge?" You want a defense force with cannon fodder drones?

      May 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • thatbalddude

      If the mission's safety hinges on the equipment's performance or suitability, the mission can be scrapped. Or would you send paratroopers out with torn parachutes?

      May 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • schmoopy

      It's the aircraft commander's call, and it's not about the mission being unsafe; it's about the aircraft.

      May 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. joe d.

    wait until the j.s.f. comes on line ! the general electric engine, which everyone killed 6 million each, the pratt and witney engine so far 36 million. this is a program that is going to be very costly. but its coming and coming with a force of all cost.

    May 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • A Govt Employee

      Joe D. you are completely wrong. a GE engine was not the right choice and the govt made the right choice. lets make 2 sets of the engines, that means two sets of tooling, two sets of spares, two sets of flanges so that the engine can mount. GE didnt even meet performance, weight, or even the tac life cycle.
      Maybe if GE spent more money on development instead of lobbying you could have won the contract.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ComSenseWiz

    When one of these bad boys is on your tail, the only thought should be, "I hope I eject safely" in any language.

    May 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. trex

    ....Man these jets with Tea Party Members. They have been walking around without oxygen for a couple years now.

    May 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • cs

      So have the occupy movement. They exist on THC fumes.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. joe d.

    right now its costing us any where from 200 to 400 million dollars to field a new combat aircraft, whats going to be the cost when china starts producing copies at 50 million each, when they start producing 100, 200 ,500, 1000. of these planes. and we can only afford 150 planes. you see where we are headed.

    May 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • treally

      I'd take 150 of our fighter pilots in our fighters, than 1,000 of theirs... Theres simply a reason that we maintain air superiority, the best trained piolts in the world... And if we are second to someone, its the Israeli pilots who is flying our aircraft after attending our training.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John S

    Seems to me I would want to solve this issue before putting F22 into a combat situation? The Pilot losing consciousness is not so good in practice. But in a combat mission its even worse. Even these high tech planes require a pilot that can fly it.

    May 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Josh

    "Pilots began experiencing problems starting four years ago."

    That is a ridiculous amount of time to go by, without fixing this sever problem.

    Clearly Gen. Mike Hostage is grossly incompetent, and needs to be quickly busted down to private; but only if Mike can handle that job level. Otherwise, Leavenworth should be is next assignment.

    May 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John

    They should be made to fly them, we would not want to cost the defense contractor more money would we? My understanding is a pilot has the right and duty to refuse to fly an unsafe aircraft. We have a lot of money invested in them.

    May 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bill

    Seems to me not so long ago parents were buying armor for their inadequately equipped kids. My country is a real mess. Does Cheney own a prosthesis factory? Makes me wonder.

    May 1, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Guest

    normal outcome for the lowest bidder built craft.

    May 1, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. blessedgeek

    The planes were so stealthy that even oxygen couldn't find them.

    May 1, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Parker

    Four years to figure out why there is a problem with oxygen? 4 years? If it were a commercial craft the problem would have been solved in 4 hours, because a commercial craft out of service means the owner is losing money. But since the F-22 don't make money, someone decided they can prolong, deflect, procrastinate and delay solving the problem because THEY can money doing that. What a racket . . . .

    May 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • schmoopy

      Clearly, you don't work in aerospace or military aviation, and if you do, you're lousy at acting like you know what you're talking about.

      May 1, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
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