May 15th, 2012
02:54 PM ET

Military limits F-22 flights after oxygen issues

The military is taking new measures as it tries to determine the root cause of possible oxygen-supply problems in the F-22 fighter jet.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has mandated that all F-22 flights "remain within the proximity of potential landing locations" to ensure the ability to recover and land should a pilot run into "unanticipated physiological conditions," Pentagon spokesman George Little said on Tuesday.

In addition, the Air Force is speeding up the installation of an automatic backup oxygen system in all the fighters, Little also announced a Pentagon press conference.

Panetta also has requested a monthly progress report about the service's progress in finding the cause of the oxygen problems on the fighter jets.

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.

Even more mysterious, the Air Force has also been looking into a number of reports that mechanics have been getting sick as well.

The fleet was grounded in May 2011 so the service could check the hypoxia reports, but the order was lifted in September under a "return to fly" plan, with equipment modifications and new rules including daily inspections of the life-support systems.

Since then, five mechanics have reported hypoxia symptoms, according Gen. Daniel Wyman, command surgeon for the Air Combat Command.

The plane's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, has started an online campaign to combat the negative publicity.

Here's more about the new measures from the Pentagon briefing:

QUESTION: George, on that topic, did the secretary consider grounding the aircraft again? And also, does this restriction on proximity of a landing site affect the deployment of the F-22s that are in the Middle East at the moment?

PENTAGON SPOKESMAN GEORGE LITTLE: The secretary believes that this is the prudent course of action to take at this time. As I indicated, he will be receiving regular updates, and all options remain on the table going forward.

In terms of the deployment in Southwest Asia, we believe that we can safely continue that deployment, given the geography of the region.

QUESTION: Why not just ground the fleet until you know what's causing the oxygen problem?

PENTAGON SPOKESMAN CAPT. JOHN KIRBY: Well, I think George said it well. The secretary believes this is the prudent course right now. It allows us to continue to examine the aircraft closely and to try to figure out what happened.

There's a trouble-shooting process that's going on right now. So the aircraft being in operation assists in that process. We believe we've mitigated the risks as much as possible.

And, again, safety of flight's paramount. The secretary's going to continue to get updates and if he has to make future decisions about the fleet, he'll do that. But right now he believes and he has - and he has been briefed very recently on this, very deeply on it, he believes that this is the right course right now.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that?

KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: The two "60" - the two pilots who flew the F-22 that were interviewed on "60 Minutes" addressed that issue about how the Air Force needs - says it needs to take, you know, tests from flights in the air to figure out what the problem is. They described themselves as guinea pigs.

How do you ensure that, you know, airmen who are flying the Raptor aren't being used as guinea pigs in this case.

KIRBY: I don't think we would ever refer to a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force as a guinea pig.

They are highly trained, highly skilled. We value their service and their expertise. And, frankly, that service and expertise is critical to helping us figure out what the problem is here.

QUESTION: On that same topic, this quick recovery issue, how - what is - how far can they fly, essentially, under that new guideline? You said that they don't do any long-duration flights, so what's their limitation now?

KIRBY: I believe it's situational more than anything. I don't - I don't believe there's a nautical-mile limit here. It's just about an appropriate level of proximity to strips so that if they needed to get down in an emergency, they could in a relatively easy, quick fashion.

But I don't - there hasn't been a - there's not a mile radius put on this.

QUESTION: So - so it's about proximity to strips in Alaska, let's say, so they have to be aware of landing strips there lengthy enough to accommodate their landing.

KIRBY: Well, certainly the strips have got to be - they have to be capable of handling that type of air - aircraft, absolutely. But it's about just general proximity here.

QUESTION: Is it indefinite until the problem is solved? And what about if (inaudible)

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Filed under: Air Force • Defense Spending • F-22 • Military
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      • S.V.P.YADAV

        Dear Sir,
        If you provide needful oxygen, It is work done on Heat soil, like
        afghanistan, and pakistan and China because F-22 Flight Design and Balancing is exellelent than other WAR Flights.

        May 18, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  13. Mark S

    I just realized one more thing. If the Air Force is reading: Sleep clinics for Apnea patients have watch size oxygen monitors call oximeters. They down load to computer software and can record an individual's percent oxygen level in the blood over hours of time. If the problem is not already isolated these could help. They are relatively new to the sleep clinics and so may be unknown to the people invovled. Okay this is my last post...its been too...addictive.

    May 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  14. Tim

    Iknow this is a complex aircraft. However, I'm having trouble understanding this. They have been putting oxygen supply into military aircraft since WWII. Many many many missions into space etc. I may be overly simplistic here but.... Bottle/Tank, regulator,hose, mask. This isn't something that should be occuring. I don't think the problem is hypoxia.

    May 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  15. DavisFLSt8

    I recall during the 60 min. story they stated the air to the pilot was pulled in after combustion through the system. I am not engineer or PhD, but that just does not seem like a bright thing to do.

    May 16, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  16. Cathy

    Were any of the parts made in China? Just a thought...

    May 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • Jannani

      Cathy, are you ignorant?

      May 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  17. Mr. Obvious

    Why do we need these fighters that cost Gozillions of Dolars, when we have F-15,16,and 18's that have proven effective agianst all "human" threats. Unless the Pentagon wants these for fighting aliens, our current arsenal does just fine. Just more GOP tricks for cutting Grandma's SS check, while throwing a few Billion to their campaign supporters.

    May 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Reply
    • dreamer96

      Yeah ..Mr. Obvious ...We should have never made the first jet anyway..the P41 Mustang, and P38 Lighting, were good fighter planes...Nah... that just does not work anymore..just look at the latest Russian and Chinese jet fighters...

      May 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
    • DigitalYukio

      While the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon and the F-18 Hornet are great fighters, other countries are already creating new generation fighters. (e.g Eurpoen JTF, Typhoon, etc.) I would this the jobs that this project created actaully helped Social security since more workers at the three aerospace firms = more tax collected.

      It's better than shutting down the space shuttle program, putting thousands americans out of work, and outsourcing it to Russian at 50+ Million US dollars per astronaut per mission.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Reply
    • Someone who actually knows what they're talking about

      New F-15s cost $100 million each.
      The old ones will have to be replaced.

      Would you rather have the most capable aircraft ever made? or an aircraft designed in the 1970s?

      May 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • UCBwill

      So, you're proposing our government significantly, or completely, reduce defense spending on technological innovations which have long enabled us to keep war miles away from American soil? Especially during times when the global powers appear to be shifting? I don't know man. Oh, and this thing with China stealing jobs, would you really want your kids to work on assembling thousands of mundane parts for an iPod? Or do you want them here developing the technologies, both commercial and defense? heck the only reason they have a silly jet is because they steal most of our secrets. Tell me that Chinese fighter does not look like a Frankenstein F22?? Pssh I'm not scared. I will take up arms to defend this country any day.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
    • dreamer96

      Mr Obvious

      One other thing to remember..we have to keep our engineers, and scientist, highly trained workers, busy, sharp, and up to date..

      May 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  18. General Davis

    Perhaps the best use for these billion dollar scrap heaps is to fly them next to a country that we want to have a war with, and when one inevitably crashes, we can use that as a provocation.

    May 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
    • DigitalYukio

      Would you be surprised if that really was the plan? Do we have any F-22 flying near North Korea, Syria or Iran?

      May 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  19. dreamer96

    If they want air samples to test in the labs, all they have to do is take some small metal bottles with shutoff vales and quick connections, vacuum out the air on ground from the bottles, shut the air valves.

    Then fly them up in the F-22 and take cockpit air samples by opening up the air valves on a bottle and sucking in an cockpit air sample, and shutting the valve again.

    Then get the pilots air mask air samples, from the breather line, just by connecting to the breather line, or a small tube under the edge of the mask, and opening up the bottles valve, and sucking in that air..then shutting the valve.. They could take many samples at 15-25 minute periods, using several bottles...

    They do water sample in the deep ocean like this...why not do air samples this way...they can test the samples in a lab for all chemicals, elements in the samples later..

    Some of these new materials maybe reacting over time to the changing air pressures and drawing out chemicals..or they may even be reacting to repeated exposure to the sun's ultra violet rays..that does break down many plastics..and synthetic materials...

    If you ever lived in the Mojave Desert like I have, you know the strong sun's ray like, the ultra violets rays, break down the new cars interior plastic materials...dashs, seat cloths, and door panel materials..plastic bumpers, body modelings.clear plastic covers...

    May 16, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
    • Poloman

      I couldn't agree with you even more. I believe that what is happening here is a chemical break-down with a "new" material being utilized. The fighter is built with state of the art radar evading materials that haven't been tested with regular wear and tear.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  20. whatsnaname

    KIRBY: I don't think we would ever refer to a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force as a guinea pig.

    No we were referred too as expensive, but expendable assets when there is contractor lobby money flowing back to the decison makers from and overfunded contractor. Until that graft runs out, or some Congress members kid gets hurt the status will remain quo.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
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