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. joesmith

    senator lugar, now ex-senator lugar can use his debating skills with some defense industry company that supplies the Airforce these birds, and continue his march to increase the national dept, he has so far been successful doing..how, under his watch, ( 36 years ), he allow the national debt to reach $$$13 trillion..

    May 9, 2012 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. James

    I would THINK! one would want a perfect oxygen system above say 12000 ft. Has NOTHING to do with being a coward!

    May 9, 2012 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  3. Hiromi Tokugawa

    You think only the F-22 has problems? First, not all F-22 problems have been reported. Second, the F-35 has so many problems, cost will skyrocket just to fix all the problems cropping up. Same DNA as the F-22. These planes are so bad, we might as well fly pianos.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
    • veritas

      Dude....I have been flying this incredible plane for 2 years now with no problems. It's the best damn jet in the sky.
      Talk about things you know about.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Snookie Lanson

      Glad the oxygen on the Enola Gay was working.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Hiromi Tokugawa

    You fly higher than 12ooo ft with no oxygen and we'll see who the coward is.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rick

    The F-22 has some new wiz-bang oxygen system that draws bleed air from the engines and runs it through a converter to turn it into pure O2. Put a LOX tank back in, like has worked for years, and the problems will go away.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
    • snowdogg

      Totally agree... if the new technology sucks then go back to the one which has worked for the past 60+ years... no brainer here.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
    • B737

      Nothing wiz-bang about that. Commercial planes been using that system for years. They are using compressed bleed air to control the temperature and get o2 out of that. 100% o2 in emergency is still supplied by small pure o2 tank. Only normal breathing comes from bleeds. They are getting that bleed air before combustion chamber. So it is only pressurize air, which maks getting o2 easier

      May 9, 2012 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. The King

    Better question, Will the defense contractors/sub-contractors that sold us these flying Edsels face reprisals? The real question here is, how did they get away with it? Better yet, Why do we spend as much money on our fraudulent "defense" budget as the rest of the world combined??? Lets ask that one!!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ron WPAFB

    As always, The Military industrial Complex of Retired Generals, Representatives and Senators line their pockets with the blood of the US Military! It's all about MONEY!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. Keith

    It is sad that pilots that report such an egregious problem with the aircraft have to worry about retribution from their superiors. I believe that "integrity in all we do" is still a precept of the Air Force, so must we worry about the "whistleblower" act? Seems the gain of rank for the superiors is viewed as more important than the safety of its pilots.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. AaronT3

    I always though the mask warn in the aircraft's like F-22 were oxygen mask. If the fix is more then simply adding an oxygen supply than we need to stop needlessly endangering the lives of our service members and wasting tax dollars.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
  10. John

    Whistleblower? How can you blow the whistle on an issue that is already publicly acknowledged and havong huge amount of resources (millions of dolars and hundres of experts) put into solving? They are not whistleblowers!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
  11. BenBreeg

    Again, the soviet wisdom that stuff too expensive or complicated or delicate is useless on the battlefield is proven true. An equipment of 120 million in hands of a single guy, one malfunction and it's lost... what an absurd.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  12. NungaBIZ

    Saw a F-22 break in half during Red Flag in 2005, great jet huh?

    May 9, 2012 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. John

    No pilit has died or even crashed due to this! The cause of the crash of an F-22 in Alaska was NOT due to this issue! The comments of people implying any crash or even near crash due to this are just plain wrong! The air force is concerned and is investigating, but obviously it is not a simple problem to solve!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • NungaBIZ

      I guess what happens in Vegas stays in Alaska........ I was at the top of the Stratosphere at Starbucks saw the smoke and checked the news....

      May 9, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. James

    Is it possible that it is a mental problem, 'if you believe it to be true, then it will be true.'

    May 9, 2012 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. KIRK/JACKSON

    What good does a plane whos pilots pass out? what are the chances of a succesful mission? and corruption knows no boundries, cliff iis all to right how does a government sign a contract for planes pilots give adamant complaints about? same reason we went to war, haliburton secured tens of billions worth of military support contracts, amd remember, he knew there was virtually no threat from iraq. and what about all the hubub from c.i.a., when we found out there was no w.m.d.? all those generals, and othr high ranking officials, resigning or retiring with, kno commentk, and the fact that cheeney was over there almost daily, which has never happened before, ever. he and w should be prosecuted, what they did was criminal, and all those lives, and the loved ones, never even given a second thought, eggs for an omelette, so to say

    May 9, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
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