Entries in F-22 Raptors (6)


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


More F-22 Fighter Pilots Concerned About Their Safety: Congressmen

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- Several more pilots have come forward to say they too are concerned about the oxygen problems plaguing America’s most expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, according to lawmakers.

On the same day that the Pentagon announced the Air Force had been directed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to add new safety measures to F-22 missions, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D.-Va.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.-Ill.) told reporters that a total of nine people involved in the F-22 program -- a majority of them pilots -- have now contacted them directly about the troubled plane.

Kinzinger was on hand when two F-22 pilots, Josh Wilson and Jeremy Gordon, spoke out about their fears flying the F-22 in a CBS News’ 60 Minutes interview earlier this month.

As a recent ABC News investigation found, for more than four years pilots in the F-22 Raptors, which cost more than an estimated $420 million each, have reported at least 25 instances of experiencing “hypoxia-like symptoms” in mid-air.  In one instance, a pilot became so disoriented by an apparent lack of oxygen that his plane dipped down and skimmed treetops before he managed to save himself, an Air Force spokesperson told ABC News.

Despite investigating the source of the problem for years -- and even grounding the full fleet for nearly five months last year -- the Air Force still does not know what is wrong with the planes.  The service also does not know what caused the malfunction that contributed to the death of F-22 pilot Capt. Jeff Haney in November 2010.

The Air Force has said that any pilots that request not to fly the plane will not be punished, and the Virginia Air National Guard, for whom Wilson and Gordon fly, told ABC News the command would “not consider using disciplinary action as a means of reprisal” against them. 

However, the congressmen and an attorney for the pilots said that Wilson still has a letter of reprimand from the Guard and could face a flying evaluation board.

“If a pilot feels uncomfortable flying this aircraft, they shouldn’t be forced to,” said Kinzinger, a veteran fighter pilot himself.

Both Kinzinger and Warner said they wanted to create a space where concerned pilots and others in the program could come forward without fear of professional reprisal.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New US Stealth Fighters Now at Iran's Back Door

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- America's most sophisticated stealth jet fighters have been quietly deployed to an allied base less than 200 miles from Iran's mainland, according to an industry report. Still, the Air Force adamantly denied the jets' presence is a threat to the Middle East nation.

Multiple stealth F-22 Raptors, which have never been combat-tested, are in hangars at the United Arab Emirates' Al Dafra Air Base, just a short hop over the Persian Gulf from Iran's southern border, the trade publication Aviation Week reported.

Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. John Dorrian would not confirm the exact location of the F-22s, but told ABC News they had been deployed to a base in Southwest Asia -- a region that includes the UAE. Dorrian also stressed that the F-22s were simply taking part in a scheduled deployment and are "not a threat to Iran."

"This is a very normal deployment to strengthen military relationships, promote sovereign and regional security, improve combined tactical air operations and enhance interoperability of forces," Dorrian said.

The F-22 has only been in the UAE once before for training missions in 2009 with "coalition partners."

Dorrian declined to say what the Raptors' mission was in the region this time around or how many planes had been deployed, citing operational security. However, Dorrian said that because of the F-22's next-generation capabilities, any number of planes deployed to the region is "significant."

Though the F-22 has been officially combat operational since December 2005, no planes from the Air Force fleet -- which are made by defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin and cost an estimated $79 billion -- have seen combat. The plane was not used in Iraq, Afghanistan or in the U.S.-led no-fly mission over Libya. The Air Force has said the sophisticated jets simply haven't been needed yet.

But Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin's vice president for the F-22 program, told ABC News last year that the plane was "absolutely" suited for taking on more sophisticated adversaries and could be used in deep penetration strike missions in well-defended combat zones inside places like North Korea or Iran.

The new deployment comes in the midst of the Air Forces' continuing battle with a rare but sustained oxygen problem plaguing the F-22. Since 2008, nearly two dozen pilots have reported experiencing "hypoxia-like symptoms" in mid-air. The problem got so bad that the Air Force grounded the planes for nearly five months last year in hopes of fixing the problem but never could.

The service also does not know what caused the malfunction that cut off F-22 pilot Capt. Jeff Haney's oxygen shortly before he fatally crashed during a training mission in Alaska in 2010.

But despite the ongoing issues, the Air Force says the F-22 is ready for war, should it be called.

"If our nation needs a capability to enter contested air space, to deal with air forces that are trying to deny our forces the ability to maneuver without prejudice on the ground, it will be the F-22 that takes on that mission," Air Force Maj. Gen. Noel Jones, Director of Operational Capability Requirements, said at a special briefing at the Pentagon in March. "It can do that right now and is able to do that without hesitation."

The Al Dafra base is approximately 800 miles from the Iranian capital of Tehran, well within the range of the F-22, which can "supercruise" at one and a half times the speed of sound.

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


Air Force Base Quietly Pauses F-22 Fighter Ops After More Air Problems

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska) -- American pilots at an Alaskan military base have reported a sudden spike of incidents in which they experienced an apparent lack of oxygen while flying the nation's most sophisticated fighter jets -- a mysterious, recurring problem that already caused the $77.4 billion fighter jet fleet to sit idle on the tarmac for months last year.

In at least three incidents in the last two weeks, pilots of the $143 million-a-pop stealth F-22 Raptors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson reported the "hypoxia-like" symptoms, leading the base to ground their F-22s for a day for "review," Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Regina Winchester told ABC News.

"In each case, appropriate procedures were applied," Winchester said, and the planes went back in the air the day after the temporary halt.  An additional case of a pilot experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms also popped up at Virginia's Joint Base Langley-Eustis earlier this month, another Air Force spokesperson, Lt. Col. Edward Sholtis, said.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is home to the F-22's only fatal crash -- one brought on at least partially by an unknown malfunction that caused the plane to automatically cut off the pilot's oxygen supply during a training mission.

The Air Force has been struggling since 2008 to determine why its pilots have suffered relatively rare but repeated "physiological events" involving hypoxia-like symptoms while flying the F-22s -- about two dozen of them out of thousands of training missions flown.  Hypoxia occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen and can cause dizziness, confusion, poor judgment and inattentiveness, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Despite its rarity, the breathing problem became such a concern that in 2011 the entire fleet of planes -- around 180 jets that cost taxpayers some $77.4 billion total -- was grounded for nearly five months while the Air Force investigated the F-22s' life support systems.  The Air Force never found the cause and cautiously sent the planes back in the air in September 2011.

The problem, however, persists.

According to Air Force numbers provided to ABC News, pilots have reported nine unexplained instances of suffering "hypoxia-like" symptoms during flight since the grounding was lifted -- compared to a total of 12 announced by the Air Force in the more than two years prior to the grounding.  Sholtis said that new monitoring systems and greater pilot awareness of potential hypoxia-like effects could account for the relative uptick in cases.

The Air Force said the nationwide May 2011 grounding was unrelated to the November 2010 F-22 crash that claimed the life of fighter ace Capt. Jeff Haney.  Haney's plane went down in the Alaskan wilderness seconds after a mysterious malfunction caused the plane to automatically cut off his oxygen system.

After an investigation into that crash, the Air Force blamed Haney, saying he was apparently too distracted by not being able to breathe to properly fly the plane.  Hypoxia did not play a role in the crash, the Air Force report said.

Along with the F-35 fighter, which is less slightly expensive per plane, the F-22 marks America's foray fifth-generation stealth fighter jets that the Air Force said can dominate the air space anywhere in the world -- even if they've never had to prove it.  Not a single one of the Raptors has been used in combat operations from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya since they went combat ready in late 2005.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Most Expensive US Fighter Grounded

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker(WASHINGTON) -- For the second time this year the Air Force has grounded dozens of F-22 Raptors, some of the world's most sophisticated and expensive stealth fighter jets, after another pilot appeared to suffer from a lack of oxygen mid-flight.

Air Force commands at two U.S. bases "paused" missions after an F-22 pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia showed signs of hypoxia while in midair, Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. John Haynes told ABC News.

The mission suspension comes just over a month after the $143 million-a-pop F-22s were cleared to go back in the air following a nearly five-month, nationwide grounding also because of mysterious oxygen problems. In announcing that grounding, Air Force officials said that in 12 separate incidents pilots had experienced "hypoxia-like symptoms" while flying the planes over the last three years. Hypoxia occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen and can cause dizziness, confusion and "poor judgment."

Though no culprit for the oxygen issue was found, the Air Force cautiously cleared the planes to go back in the air in September after investigating the life support systems because it had, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, "enough insight from recent studies and investigations that a return to flight [was] prudent and appropriate."

The U.S. has more than 160 F-22s stationed at a handful of bases across the country, but the current halt is only in effect at Langley and at Alaska's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Elmendorf-Richardson has not experienced an incident recently, but it is the home base of the late Capt. Jeffrey Haney who was killed in an F-22 crash during a nighttime training mission in November 2010. An investigation into that crash is ongoing, the Air Force said, but Schwartz told reporters last month the oxygen system was definitely not the cause of the crash, despite news reports to the contrary.

Along with the F-35 fighter, which is slightly less expensive per plane, the F-22 marks America's foray fifth-generation stealth fighter jets that the Air Force said can dominate the air space anywhere in the world -- even if they've never had to prove it.

Not a single one of the Raptors -- 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 been used in combat operations and isn't expected to "any time soon," an Air Force official told ABC News last month.

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 instead of the third-world militaries and insurgents the U.S. currently faces.

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

Since the nationwide grounding was lifted, Haynes said the F-22s have completed 1,300 training and homeland defense missions without incident, save for the one at Langley, and said that any halts at local bases are at the discretion of the base wing commanders there. There are currently no plans for another nationwide halt as other bases keep a close eye on their pilots' safety in the air.

"Everybody knows, everybody's watching," Haynes said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio