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. Thane Kerner

    These things have been overpriced and underbuilt since the first one rolled off the assembly line. F-15s with slanted vertical stabilizers and moveable engine nacelles would have been far cheaper. On top of this, the F-35 won't work for the Navy, so a redesign of the F-35N will have to be done. I can't believe the Navy will accept a fleet defense fighter that has only one engine.

    May 1, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John P. Tarver

    The best use for the F-22 is for scrap.

    May 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Greg Dittman

    Modern Air Force fighter planes can pull -3g +9g. That rating is the limit of the fighter pilot. There might be a bug in the system that causes the F-22 to exceed the g-force of the pilot, which would cut off the flow of blood to the brain and therefore the oxygen to the brain. One such maneuver is where the F-22 shoots a missile, uses the vector thrust to do a 180 degree as fast as possible and then turn on afterburners as quick as possible. That maneuver is unique to the F-22 and standard doctrine for the same aircraft.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. sean

    no sure but i would think that this article violates OPSEC... just saying

    May 2, 2012 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Gonzo

      Ever think that maybe it's PSYOP?

      May 2, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tommy

    Time to let a droid fly the plane. Who needs pilots to press a button? Even a monkey can be trained to press a button. Pilots r over rated these days. Outsource it. The Indians can do it better for 1/100000 the price.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
    • irunner

      Don't need a droid. Just let the plane fly itself (autonomous) or RPV. I'd still love to see R2D2 equivalent as copilot!

      May 2, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Ms Av8or

      Wow, I would absolutely love to watch you even try to fly in a Simulator. Obviously you have no frickening clue what you are talking about. For some reason every uneducated big mouth out there believes that the VNAV can fly the plane all by itself on autopilot. Who do you think puts in the coordinance? Who do you think does the takeoff? What about the landing? Better yet, if there is an emergency what do you think will happen???? Do you think the plane can look at the weather radar all by itself and choose the best route?? Before you open you mouth with some stupid 5th grade educated comment, maybe you should think and consult someone whom at least went to high school!!!!!

      May 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I do believe that drone tech is the way of the future...but a true fighter pilot can overcome many odds that a computer could not.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jorge

    Somewhere behind this story is a coven of politicians and Pentagon fatcats pulling strings to keep this white elephant on the taxpayer nickel so they can take their kickbacks from LM and it's subs. You think they care if a few pilots black out, crash and burn as long as they can keep the big bucks flowing?

    May 2, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Common Sense

      Tell that to the parents of a pilot that died because his 30-40 yr old aircraft failed.Or the 10,000 of highly paid workers in the defense industry.The F-22 and F-35 are ment and needed as replacements for the outdated and overused aircraft of the 70's and 80's.Do they have bugs yes all things do initially eventually they will be worked out.

      May 2, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      The F-22 and F-35 are NOT direct replacements for the F-14 and F-16, either financially or tactically, and the people who know about aerial warfare at the Pentagon are having these aircraft rammed down their throats by the higher ups. These super-expensive planes are limited by the physics of the human body, whereas drone technology is MUCH more promising and financially viable for extended-envelope missions because they lack that limitation. The F-22 and F-35 are akin to the German Tiger tanks of WWII, which although excellently engineered, proved too complex, costly and time-consuming to be economically viable in significant numbers on the battlefield, being outclassed by the lesser, more economical and much more abundant U.S. Sherman tank through sheer numbers and the firepower numbers provide in weapon-to-weapon battle. These planes are impressive, but in many ways they are expensive, anachronistic hot rods meant to provide sweetheart deals for a few at taxpayer expense.

      May 2, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Common Sense

      The human body limits what can be done in a F-14,15,16 and 18 as well.It's the stealth first strike capability that gives the f-22 and 35 its advantage in the 21rst century battlefield.The previous are craft can only be updated so much and replaceent parts are a problem when they're no longer made case and point the a-10 a great aircraft whose engines are no longer made...

      May 2, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Sean

    Those prima donna pilots. Now they want oxygen too!

    May 2, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
  8. G. Zeus™

    I, too, refuse to fly F-22s until they fix this problem! Let's all refuse to fly F-22s! Yeah! Come on! Solidarity, people!

    May 2, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. Raven Lawrence

    This pilots need to man up and trust their planes...almost all planes have bugs...plus USAF fighter pilots are post to be fearless

    May 2, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      What a chickenhawk you are.

      May 2, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      that was a good book and those pilots dint gripe about oxygen!

      May 2, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jorge

    Would you, my good Republican businessmen, sponsor an exotic race car that cost an inordinate fortune to build, went way past turnkey deadline, crew chiefs/owners didn't trust and couldn't lap anywhere near the pole car because it could make the driver pass out at speed and shunt spectacularly into the stands/infield? NO? Then why the HELL do you expect us middle-class working folk who have enough expenses already to keep financing these LEMONS???

    May 2, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  11. DaMan

    I wouldn't want to be a general with the last name Hostage.

    May 2, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • irunner

      DaMan, I was in a Marine Corps squadron back in the 70's where we had a Major Miner and a Corporal Sargent. We had a lot of fun with that.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • lolwat

      i met an enlisted navy female with the last name of guzzler.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. palintwit

    A lack of oxygen in the delivery room where Sarah Palin was born certainly explains her brain damage.

    May 2, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  13. dreamer96

    Do fighter pilots have a union???

    May 2, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Dessiree

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

    May 2, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. Lawrence

    Why do we even need these planes anymore with Iron Man on the job?

    May 2, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
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