Entries in F-22 (7)


Air Force: F-22 Raptor Crash Not Likely Related to Oxygen Problems

Stocktrek Images/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Air Force is investigating the cause of an F-22 Raptor crash near an air base in Florida.  However, an Air Force official told ABC News it was likely not related to mysterious and potentially deadly oxygen problems that plagued the $420 million-a-pop war planes for years -- problems the Air Force believes it has already solved.

The Air Force announced Thursday afternoon that an F-22 pilot had managed to bail out of his $420 million fighter jet before the crash near Tyndall Air Force Base.  The Air Force official told ABC News the pilot is in “good shape” and has been speaking with investigators about the crash.

“Initial indications are, from talking to the pilot and from analyzing initial evidence… [that] it doesn’t look like it was related to any physiological problems,” the official said.

He said the pilot did not report any physiological problems and the crash didn’t seem to be related to “any of the life support system issues,” emphasizing that the Air Force will not know for sure what caused the crash until a full investigation has been completed.

The F-22 jet, America’s single most expensive fighter at around $420 million apiece, was the subject of a year-long ABC News investigation that looked into why several of the advanced jets’ pilots were experiencing symptoms of oxygen deprivation in mid-air -- experiences the Air Force often referred to as physiological incidents.  

While the experience was relatively rare -- the Air Force reported more than a couple dozen since 2008 -- they were bad enough that the Air Force grounded the entire fleet of planes for five months last year to investigate, and then placed strong safety restrictions on the planes when they put them back in the air.  The Air Force has since announced that it believes it has solved the problem.

The ABC News investigation also examined the death of Capt. Jeff Haney, an F-22 pilot who died a minute after a malfunction in his plane cut off his oxygen.  Despite the malfunction, the Air Force blamed Haney for the crash.  

In the course of the investigation, ABC News obtained an Air Force test document that showed the service had been warned of a potentially deadly flaw in the F-22 oxygen system design a decade before it played a direct role in Haney’s death.

Thursday’s crash occurred the same day the Air Force reportedly released the results of their investigation into another F-22 crash at Tyndall.  The pilot in that crash, which occurred in May, was able to bail out and save himself as well.  In its report, the Air Force blamed the May crash on pilot error, according to a report by the Air Force Times.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Air Force: There Never Was a 'Smoking Gun' for F-22 Problems

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- There is no single malfunction to blame for the mystery oxygen problems with America's most expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, but the Air Force believes it has solved the potentially deadly riddle anyway by identifying a few contributing factors, a top Air Force official said Tuesday.

"In the end, there is no smoking gun," Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, head of an Air Force F-22 investigation board, told reporters.  "We have assembled the pieces of the mosaic... I have high confidence that we have eliminated the major contributors to this problem."

The "mosaic" of issues, Lyon said, includes a malfunctioning valve on the pilot's upper pressure vest, the size and shape of hoses and connectors in the pilot's gear and, for a period, a charcoal filter that the Air Force installed after the problems began to try and catch potential contaminates.

Lyon's comments elaborated on an announcement by Pentagon spokesperson George Little earlier this week that the military was "confident" the F-22 problem was solved and that there was a plan to lift strict flight restrictions on the $420 million-a-pop planes.

The $79 billion Raptor fleet was the subject of an ABC News Nightline investigation in May, which found that in more than two dozen cases since 2008, F-22 pilots had experienced unexplained incidents of what the Air Force called "hypoxia-like symptoms" in mid-air.  Hypoxia is defined as a lack of oxygen to the brain and is characterized by dizziness, confusion, sluggishness and poor judgment.

In one case last year, a pilot became so disoriented that his plane dropped down and skimmed treetops before the airman managed to pull up and save himself.  Days later, the Air Force grounded the entire fleet while they investigated the mystery problem.

After nearly five months of searching, and with no solution found, the Air Force cautiously allowed the planes back in the air.  Only days after that, the Air Force awarded the plane's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, a nearly $35 million contract in part to help identify the source of the problem, but they too came up empty handed.

Lyon said on Tuesday that he believes a "vast majority" of the incidents were caused by one or a combination of the contributing factors he listed.

He also said that the faulty parts were totally unrelated to a fatal F-22 crash in Alaska in November 2010 in which Capt. Jeff Haney's plane suffered a malfunction that shut off his oxygen completely.

Lyon was unable to explain why on six other occasions, ground crews had reported experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms while working on the jets, but said they could have been feeling off due to anything from dehydration, poor diet or breathing in nearby jet exhaust.

F-22 pilots have already been ordered to ditch the pressure vests and the Air Force will soon begin testing a new valve on the pressure vest.  The service is also in the process of installing an automatic emergency back-up oxygen system to the planes but does not expect to be finished until next spring.

Despite costing an estimated $79 billion, no jet in the entire F-22 fleet -- some 185 planes -- has ever seen combat.  From Iraq to Afghanistan to the no-fly zone over Libya, the Air Force said the planes simply weren't necessary.

Over the weekend, the Air Force deployed a squadron of F-22s to Kadena Air Base in Japan.  All of the planes reached their destination without incident, Lyon said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pentagon 'Confident' Mystery F-22 Fighter Problem Solved

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- The military believes it has found the source of the potentially deadly oxygen problem that has plagued America's most expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, for years, Pentagon spokesperson George Little said on Tuesday.

"I think we have very high confidence that we've identified the issues," Little told reporters, before announcing a long-term plan to lift strict flight restrictions imposed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the $79 billion fleet in May.  "This is a very prudent way to ensure that we, in a very careful manner, resume normal flight operations."

The mystery problem with the F-22 Raptor was the subject of an ABC News Nightline investigation, which found that since 2008, F-22 pilots have experienced unexplained symptoms of oxygen deprivation -- including confusion, sluggishness and disorientation -- while at the controls of the $420 million-a-pop jets on more than two dozen occasions.  In one instance, a pilot became so disoriented that his plane skimmed treetops before he was able to pull up and save himself.

The Air Force subjected the F-22 to intense scrutiny for years, including a nearly five-month fleet-wide grounding last year, but was unable to solve the problem.  When the grounding was lifted, the service awarded the plane's manufacturer, defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin, a nearly $25 million contract in part to help identify the problem, but still no answer was found.

The source of the issue, the Pentagon now says, is believed to be a faulty valve in the high-pressure vest that is worn by the pilots at extreme altitudes -- one that Air Force officials believe is constricting the pilots' ability to breathe.

"To correct the supply issue and reduce the incidence of hypoxia-like events, the Air Force has made two changes to the aircraft's cockpit life support system," Little said.  "First, the Air Force will replace a valve in the upper pressure garment vest worn by pilots during high-altitude missions.  The valve was causing the vest to inflate and remain inflated under conditions where it was not designed to do so, thereby causing breathing problems for some pilots... Second, the Air Force has increased the volume of air flowing to pilots by removing a filter that was installed to determine whether there were any contaminants present in the oxygen system.  Oxygen contamination was ruled out."

The Air Force first ordered its pilots to stop wearing the vests last month, but Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Tadd Scholtis told ABC News at the time that while the vests were believed to have contributed to the problem, they were "not believed to be the root cause of the prior incidents."

When asked by a reporter if the new solution could also account for the at least five instances in which the Air Force said ground crews working on the F-22s experienced their own hypoxia-like symptoms, Little said he "did not have specifics" on those incidents.

Still, Gen. Charles Lyon, the head of the team investigating the F-22 problem, made his case in the Pentagon against the so-called G-suit and its valve over the past few days, an Air Force official told ABC News, and Little said that on Friday Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and other top Air Force officials presented the Air Force analysis to Panetta.

"After receiving assurances that these corrective measures would minimize hypoxia-like events in the F-22, the secretary approved the Air Force planned sequence of actions to remove flight restrictions over time," Little said.

The process started on Tuesday, he said, with an order from the Air Force for a squadron of F-22s to be deployed to Kadena Air Base in Japan.  The planes will fly there at altitudes that will not require pilots to wear the vests.

The Air Force is still in the process of installing an automatic emergency back-up oxygen system to the planes but that process is not expected to be completed until next spring.

Despite costing an estimated $79 billion, no jet in the entire F-22 fleet -- some 185 planes -- has ever seen combat.  From Iraq to Afghanistan to the no-fly zone over Libya, the Air Force said the planes simply weren't necessary.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


F-22 Fighter Pilots Told to Ditch Pressure Vests; Mystery Problem Unsolved

U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- Pilots for the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fighter jets have been ordered to take off a portion of their flying suits, specifically the G-suit vest, during routine training missions as the service continues to investigate a rare but mysterious breathing problem some pilots have experienced in the $420 million-a-pop jets.

As a recent ABC News investigation found, in at least 25 cases since 2008 F-22 pilots have reported experiencing symptoms of oxygen deprivation in mid-flight. In one case, a pilot became so disoriented that his plane actually skimmed the tops of trees before he managed to save himself. Another pilot, Capt. Jeff Haney, was killed in a crash after an unexplained malfunction cut off his oxygen supply during a training mission in November 2010.

Despite grounding the whole $79 billion fleet of jets for five months last year, the Air Force has been unable to discover the source of the problem.

Air Force spokesperson Tadd Scholtis told ABC News Wednesday that the G-suit vest, designed to help pilots’ bodies cope with extreme G-forces during maneuvers, “appears to be contributing to breathing difficulties” for pilots, but is not believed to be the root cause of the prior incidents. It is being removed, he said, because of some “vulnerability and reliability issues.”

Last month Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered new flight restrictions for the F-22 while the breathing problem remains under investigation, but the Air Force has claimed those orders have not curbed the planes’ operations. Panetta also ordered the Air Force to expedite the installation of an automatic emergency backup system, a safety measure that Haney’s family told ABC News would have saved his life.

The F-22 Raptor, which is made by defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin, officially went combat operational in December 2005 but has yet to see an actual combat mission. From Iraq and Afghanistan to last year’s U.S.-led no-fly zone over Libya, the Air Force said it simply has not needed the advanced capabilities of the most expensive jet fighter in history.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


McCain: Will New F-22 Fighter Limits Affect Missions Abroad?

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A day after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced strict flight restrictions for America’s most expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, over safety concerns about the plane’s oxygen system, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., raised questions about how the move would affect America’s national security and operations abroad.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and vocal critic of the $79 billion F-22 program, noted that a number of the planes had recently been deployed to Southwest Asia -- reportedly to a United Arab Emirates base just 200 miles from Iran's mainland -- "to promote regional security.”

“Please describe what effect, if any, these measures will have on the ability of the F-22s deployed overseas to execute their intended missions,” McCain wrote in a letter to Panetta Wednesday.

The restrictions, which keep the planes in close proximity to potential landing strips in case of a mid-air emergency, were announced two weeks after an ABC News Nightline investigation found that the advanced $420 million-a-pop fighter jets have been plagued by a rare but potentially deadly oxygen problem for years. Despite multiple investigations, the Air Force has been unable to pinpoint the cause.

In another case, a malfunction that the Air Force has yet to identify caused one pilot’s oxygen system to shut off during a training mission in Alaska in November 2010 just a minute before he died in a fiery crash.

A senior defense official said the Pentagon will “certainly” respond to the letter and, without going into specifics, told ABC News the planes would “remain operational in areas where geographic proximity to landing strips permits it.”

“The full range of our capabilities will not result in any operational impact to Afghanistan or elsewhere,” the official said.

Despite being deployed abroad, no F-22 has ever taken part in a combat mission since the $79 billion fleet went combat-ready in late 2005. From Afghanistan and Iraq to the U.S.-led “no-fly zone” over Libya, the Air Force said the sophisticated jets simply haven’t been needed yet.

McCain’s question of combat-readiness also came a day before the American ambassador to Israel said the U.S. has done its military planning and is “ready” to strike Iran if diplomatic talks over the country’s controversial nuclear program fail.

In addition to the senior defense official’s comments, a spokesperson for the Air Force referred ABC News to comments made by Pentagon spokesperson Capt. John Kirby during a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

“The majority of F-22 pilots are out there flying it every day,” he said, noting the planes’ deployment to Southwest Asia. “There have been no problems. It is flying.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Air Force Contradicts Itself in Blame for F-22 Fighter Crash

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson(WASHINGTON) -- Three months after the Air Force placed blame squarely on an F-22 fighter pilot who died when he crashed in the service's most expensive plane after his oxygen system failed in mid-air, a top Air Force official is apparently backtracking, saying that the pilot was not blamed and that he did the best he could in the situation he was in.

"We did not assign blame to the pilot," U.S. Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said before a House subcommittee on Tuesday when asked about the crash and the troubled F-22 program by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., according to multiple reports.  "… This was a complex contingency that he did his best to manage and, in the end, we lost aircraft control."

Schwartz's comments seem to contradict the conclusions an Air Force board reached after an intense, months-long investigation into the November 2010 crash that claimed the life of Capt. Jeff Haney, who the Air Force called an exceptional aviator.  Haney crashed in the Alaskan wilderness after a malfunction caused his oxygen system to shut down completely, meaning he suffered "a sense similar to suffocation" in mid-flight, according to the Air Force report.

"The 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 report said, essentially saying Haney was too distracted by not being able to breathe 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.

Moran noted in Tuesday's hearing that the investigation board blamed Haney and said, "There's been a suggestion... saying that the service is trying to protect its fifth-generation fighter and those involved in the program," according to a report by The Air Force Times.

In January, the Pentagon's Inspector General's office informed the Air Force it would be conducting its own review of the Air Force investigation -- the first major review of a military accident investigation in nearly 20 years.

The sophisticated F-22 Raptors, which cost the U.S. government an estimated $77.4 billion, are meant to be among the most advanced fighter planes on the planet.  But they have yet to see any combat -- going unused in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya despite becoming combat operational in late 2005 -- and have been plagued with a rare, mysterious oxygen problem.

Last year, the Air Force grounded the entire fleet of planes for nearly five months while the service investigated why, on a dozen separate occasions, pilots experienced "hypoxia-like symptoms" mid-flight.  Hypoxia occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen and is characterized by dizziness, confusion, poor judgment and inattentiveness.

But after scouring the planes for the source of the problem, the Air Force was unable to pinpoint any "smoking gun," as Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle put it last week, and cautiously allowed pilots back in the cockpit in September 2011.  Since the planes went back in the air, the Air Force has reported another nine incidents of pilots experiencing the "hypoxia-like" symptoms -- leading to a handful of one-day "pauses" in operations at various bases.

An Air Force spokesperson previously told ABC News the Air Force is watching its pilots very closely as they allow the planes to continue flying.

"The bottom line is this airplane is important to the national security and we've got the best minds we can find … we're working hard to both manage the risk and identify the exact cause," Schwartz said Tuesday. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


F-22, World's Most Expensive Stealth Fighter, to Fly Again

Erik Simonsen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- America's F-22 Raptor, the world's most advanced and expensive stealth jet fighter, will be heading back into the skies to protect the homeland after a nearly five-month grounding due to oxygen problems, the Air Force announced Monday.

The entire fleet of F-22s -- over 160 planes -- has been waiting on the tarmac since early May after the Air Force reported 12 separate incidents of pilots experiencing "hypoxia-like symptoms" in the past three years while flying the planes.

The planes will slowly make their way back between the clouds in a "comprehensive incremental return-to-fly plan" after the entire fleet undergoes an "extensive inspection of the life support systems," the Air Force said. The planes were grounded so long that the pilots reportedly may have to repeat grueling training just to become proficient in the complex planes once again.

"We now have enough insight from recent studies and investigations that a return to flight is prudent and appropriate," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said in a statement. "We're managing the risks with our aircrews, and we're continuing to study the F-22's oxygen systems and collect data to improve its performance."

The first of the F-22s are scheduled to hit the skies Wednesday, the Air Force said. But going back into the air does not mean they will be heading back into combat.

Despite being operational since December 2005, the F-22 has not been an "operational requirement" in any major theater of combat for the U.S., from Iraq to Afghanistan or Libya, the Air Force said.

Not a single one of the planes -- which cost U.S. government $77.4 billion for a total of 187 planes from developer Lockheed Martin, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office -- has used what Lockheed Martin's website called a "revolutionary leap in lethality" in defense of U.S. interests abroad and isn't expected to "anytime soon," an Air Force official told ABC News.

The planes have, however, flown more than 300 missions in support of Operation Noble Eagle -- a series of military operations directed at homeland defense and civil support, according to the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon initially ordered more than 600 of the fifth-generation fighters, but Congress stopped at funding 187 in 2009 under a hail of criticism over the fact that the planes are designed to take on other rival high-tech fighter jets -- jets that did not exist at the time.

Only recently have rival major powers -- including Russia and China -- unveiled their prototypes for what are believed to be their own stealth fighters, supposedly capable to taking on the F-22.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio