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Hickam F-22 pilot has “in-flight emergency” due to lack of oxygen

July 17, 2012 

Last week Tuesday, July 10, 2012, a Hawaii Air National Guard pilot experienced oxygen deprivation while flying an F-22 Raptor, the most advanced fighter aircraft in the U.S. military arsenal.

The AP reported “Stealth Fighter Jet Flaw: Pilot Suffers Oxygen Deprivation While Flying F-22 Raptor” (July 11, 2012):

The Hawaii Air National Guard said Tuesday one of its pilots briefly experienced an oxygen deficit while flying an F-22 stealth fighter last week.

The pilot was heading back to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam from a routine training sortie when sensors indicated he wasn’t getting as much oxygen as he should, said Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, a spokesman for the Hawaii Guard.

The pilot also felt dizzy. He activated the emergency oxygen system until his symptoms abated and the plane’s oxygen generating system returned to normal.

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported “Hypoxia incident involves isle F-22 pilot” (July 11, 2012):

A Hawaii-based F-22 Raptor pilot declared an “in-flight emergency” Friday after experiencing momentary dizziness, as a troubling air supply problem on the costly stealth jets continues to spread, officials said.

It was the first reported case of hypoxia-like symptoms — not getting enough oxygen — experienced by a Hawaii-based pilot, said Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, a Hawaii National Guard spokes­man.

[. . .]

While the case was a first for Hawaii, it’s the latest in a string of F-22 oxygen deprivation problems that have become an embarrassment for the Air Force as it attempts to justify the Raptor, the most expensive fighter ever built.

The Air Force pegs the cost at $143 million per jet, but the total program cost is $77.4 billion, or $412 million per plane counting research and development and upgrades.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former combat pilot, told ABC News in May that the F-22 was designed with a Cold War mentality.

“(The F-22) has not flown a single combat mission,” McCain said. He added that he doesn’t think the F-22 will ever be involved in the combat it was designed for, “because that threat is no longer in existence.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., brought the Hawaii incident to light in a joint letter delivered Tuesday to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

The letter said according to “information shared directly with our offices, we understand there was a hypoxia-related in-flight emergency declared by an F-22 pilot incident on July 6 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.”

[. . .]

In addition to the Hickam emergency, the letter also noted a “restricted airflow” incident in late June involving an F-22 pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and a May 31 mishap at Tyndall Air Force in Florida in which an F-22 reportedly hit the runway without extending its landing gear.

A July 2 story cited 36 hypoxia incidents to that point, with 21 classified as unexplained. The arrival of six remaining Raptors to Hawaii — rounding out the squadron of 20 aircraft — has been delayed.

This latest incident comes days after the New York Times published an article “Oxygen problems on F-22 elude Air Force’s fixes” (July 3, 2012) on the lingering problems plaguing the F-22s:

Capt. Jeff Haney was at 51,000 feet on a night flight above Alaska in November 2010 when the oxygen system in his F-22 Raptor fighter jet shut down, restricting his ability to breathe as he plummeted faster than the speed of sound into the tundra below. His plane burned a crater into the ice, froze 40 feet beneath the surface and was not fully recovered until the spring thaw.

Haney’s death unnerved the elite community of F-22 pilots, as did a series of episodes over the next 18 months in which an alarming number experienced symptoms of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation. The Air Force grounded the Raptor, the jewel of its fleet, but could not find anything wrong, so it put the jet back in the air — only to have the episodes increase. In May, two seasoned pilots took the extraordinary step of telling “60 Minutes” that they refused to fly the plane.

The Air Force thought it had identified and fixed the problem — malfunctioning pressure vests and leaking narrow oxygen hoses — and went in to spin control to recuperate its image:

But last week, as Air Force officials escorted a reporter and a photographer to the Langley flight line to watch F-22s roaring on and off the runway for an ostensible good-news story, it happened again. A pilot pulled his emergency oxygen handle sometime after landing because of what the Air Force characterized as “discomfort” from intermittent air flow into the pilot’s mask during flight. The Air Force is investigating but so far has said little.

Here’s the link to the “60 Minutes” episode: “Is the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet making pilots sick?” (May 6, 2012).

New F-22 rules leave Guard in holding pattern

May 17, 2012 

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.

Searching for answers and accountability in recent military aircraft crashes

May 14, 2012 

In April 9, 2010, an Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crashed in Afghanistan killing four people.

Almost two years to the day after the crash in Afghanistan, the AP reported “Two U.S. troops die in helicopter crash in Morocco” (April 11, 2012):

Two U.S. Marines were killed and two severely injured in the crash of a hybrid aircraft in Morocco on Wednesday, officials said.

The Marines were taking part in joint U.S.-Moroccan military excercises located in the south of the country based in Agadir, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Rodney Ford in Rabat, who gave the toll.

[...]

The aircraft was participating in a U.S.-Moroccan military exercise known as “African Lion.”

[...]

The MV-22, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter, is designed to carry 24 combat troops and fly twice as fast as the Vietnam War-era assault helicopters it was to replace.

The Osprey program was nearly scrapped after a history of mechanical failures and two test crashes that killed 23 Marines in 2000. But development continued, and the aircraft have been deployed to Iraq.

While the General Accounting Office questioned the Osprey’s performance in a report last year, the Marine Corps has called it effective.

An Air Force version of the aircraft crashed in Afghanistan in April 2010, killing three service members and one civilian contractor.

The Osprey has been the subject of intense controversy with critics pointing to the exorbitant cost and accident rate, and proponents citing the utility of the aircraft. The Marines  have been able to keep the program alive through the rough and tumble budget wars in Washington.  The Marines now propose to bring a fleet of Osprey to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay and to Takae in Okinawa.

Meanwhile, ABC News reported that the widow of a F-22 Raptor pilot who died in a crash in Alaska is suing the manufacturer for a faulty design that led to the crash, “F-22 Crash Widow Sues Lockheed Martin for Wrongful Death” (March 13, 2012):

The widow of the F-22 Raptor pilot who died after a malfunction in his jet cut off his oxygen system during a training mission in Alaska is suing the F-22 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and other major defense contracting companies for wrongful death, negligence and fraud.

Anna Haney, wife of the late Capt. Jeff Haney, filed a complaint in an Illinois court Monday alleging Lockheed knowingly sold the U.S. Air Force “dangerous and defective” planes that did not provide life support systems “that would allow our pilots to survive even routine training missions, such as the one that killed” Haney, according to a report by the Courthouse News Service.

In addition to Lockheed Martin, the suit names other major defense contractors such as Boeing, Honeywell International and Pratt and Whitney — all involved in various aspects of the F-22′s systems — as defendants. The complaint also alleges that the U.S. Air Force has awarded Lockheed Martin millions of dollars on a new contract to investigate and solve ongoing problems with the planes’ life support systems.

[...]

Capt. Jeff Haney was killed in November 2010 when, after completing a training mission over the Alaskan wilderness, a malfunction in his $143 million plane caused his oxygen system to shut off completely, causing him to experience “a sense similar to suffocation,” according to the Air Force’s investigative report into the incident. Haney’s plane entered a sharp dive and, seconds later, crashed, spreading debris more than a quarter mile.

After more than a year-long investigation into the crash, the Air Force concluded that he was at fault for crashing the plane.

“The [investigation] board president found, by clear and convincing evidence, the cause of the mishap was the [pilot's] failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan, and unrecognized spatial disorientation,” the December 2011 report said, essentially saying Haney was too distracted by the lack of oxygen to fly the plane properly. The report also noted other contributing factors in the crash but said it was still a mystery as to what caused the original malfunction.

In November 2010, the Anchorage Daily News reported “Airforce pilot dies in F22 crash” (November 20, 2010):

The pilot of an F-22 Raptor fighter jet that went down Tuesday during a training flight over Interior Alaska died in the crash, Col. Jack McMullen, commander of the Air Force’s 3rd Wing, said Friday.

[...]

F-22 emergencies

According to the Air Force, there have been four emergency incidents with the Raptor or its prototypes, including three crashes, one of which was fatal.

• March 2009: An F-22 on a test flight crashed about 35 miles northeast of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The crash killed the pilot, a contractor for Lockheed Martin and a 21-years Air Force veteran. “Human factors associated with high gravitational forces,” caused the crash, according to an accident investigation report.

• September 2007: Loaded with eight small-diameter bombs, an F-22 suffered a brief flameout of both of its engines while conducting a midair roll. Investigators blamed an incorrect trim setting. As a result of the power loss, air traffic controllers briefly lost telemetry signals from the jet.

• December 2004: An F-22 lost electrical power shortly after taking off from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The test pilot, a lieutenant colonel, survived after ejecting just before the jet flipped and skidded across the desert floor. The Air Force ceased F-22 flight operations for 18 days following the crash.

• April 1992: A prototype to the F-22, the YF-22, slammed into an Edwards Air Force Base runway, because of a low approach taken by the test pilot, who ejected safely.

 

Raptor wings clipped after Alaska crash

July 23, 2011 

Here is another military expansion project in Hawai’i.   Senator Inouye’s strategy has been to pack as much construction and long-term capital improvements into the military budget for Hawai’i as a way to prolong the military’s presence and his influence over the shape of Hawai’i's future long after he is gone. It’s about his legacy.  The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports:

The F-22 Raptor, the Air Force’s most advanced weapons system, is the only fighter capable of “simultaneously conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions with near impunity,” maker Lockheed Martin says on its website.

Now, if they could only get off the ground.

The Hawaii Air National Guard and active-duty Air Force showcased the stealth aircraft Friday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, where a groundbreaking was held for a $37.1 million maintenance hangar and squadron operations facility for the F-22s.

[...]

But an investigation into “hypoxia-like” symptoms — meaning not getting enough oxygen — experienced by some pilots elsewhere has left all Raptors in the Air Force inventory on stand-down since early May with no end to the grounding in sight.

[...]

F-22 improvement projects at Hickam totaling $156 million are expected to be completed through the next four to five years, officials said.

[...]

An Alaska F-22 pilot died in November when he lost control of his jet during training. The jet crashed about 100 miles north of Anchorage.

‘Raptors’ grounded over defects

May 8, 2011 

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that:

The Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-22 Raptors, including those in Hawaii, because of concerns about the system that delivers oxygen to pilots aboard the fighter jets, a military spokeswoman said yesterday.

[...]

The Hawaii Air National Guard began flying F-22 Raptors last summer in partnership with the Air Force and has nine of the stealth fighters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

[...]

The fleet of 158 fighter jets nationwide is on stand-down because of “hypoxia-like” events reported by some pilots, Anderson said. Hypoxia is when the body receives too little oxygen.

Last November an F-22 pilot was killed in Alaska when he lost control of his jet during a training exercise. Since January the Raptor fleet has been restricted from flying above 25,000 feet because of concerns with the plane’s oxygen supply system.

Capt. Jeffrey Haney was killed when his F-22 crashed 100 miles north of Anchorage. Haney was on a training run with another F-22 to practice “intercepts” when his plane disappeared from ground radar tracking and from communications with the other stealth fighter. The married father of two from Clarklake, Mich., did not eject from the plane.