In an earlier post, I reported on the lawsuit filed against Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-22, by the widow of an F-22 pilot who died in a crash in Alaska in 2010. As William Cole reports in today’s Honolulu Star Advertiser “New F-22 rules leave Guard in holding pattern” (May 16, 2012), the number of reported cases of pilot hypoxia (lack of oxygen) among F-22 pilots is widespread, forcing the Pentagon to impose flight restrictions on all F-22s.
The Hawaii Air National Guard was waiting on orders Tuesday to see whether its F-22 Raptor fighters would be affected after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta imposed new flight restrictions — the latest setback for the costly and controversial jet.
The Pentagon said that effective immediately, all F-22 flights would remain within the “proximity” of potential landing locations to enable quick recovery and landing should a pilot experience hypoxialike symptoms, or not being able to get enough oxygen.
The Hawaii Air Guard and active-duty Air Force fly and maintain 14 of the stealthy jets at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with the arrival of the six remaining Raptors to Hawaii — rounding out the squadron of 20 aircraft — delayed for unexplained reasons.
There have been other pilots coming forward to express their concerns about the Raptor:
According to the news program “60 Minutes,” which recently aired a segment about two Virginia Air National Guard pilots who stepped forward to discuss hypoxia incidents and concerns about the safety of the F-22, 36 of 200 Raptor pilots — or about 18 percent — have experienced problems.
Capt. Josh Wilson, one of those pilots, said he noticed issues on a flight in February 2011.
“Several times during the flight I had to really concentrate, immense concentration on doing just simple, simple tasks,” he said. Wilson said he thinks the problem stems from not getting the quality or quantity of oxygen needed, or there is contamination in the air flow.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Tuesday that seven more airmen who work with the F-22, including flight surgeons, have come forward to report cases of hypoxialike symptoms, Air Force Times reported.
The Hawaii Air National Guard reports that there have been “no official complaints, no incidents” involving Hawai’i F-22 pilots. But this latest order marks only the latest setback for this expensive, some would say extravagant and unnecessary, fighter jet.
The Raptor, the Air Force’s most advanced fighter, is also the most expensive fighter jet ever, with a total program cost of $77.4 billion, or $412 million a plane with research and development and upgrades.
The Air Force has not been able to pinpoint the cause of the hypoxia, which began cropping up in 2008.
The Air Force’s entire Raptor fleet was grounded twice in 2011 over hypoxia concerns, including a nearly five-month stand-down.