Defense

July 24, 2012

Panetta approves plan to lift F-22 flight limits

By Lilita C. Baldor
Associated Press

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has approved an Air Force plan to begin lifting flight restrictions on the F-22 stealth fighter jet, following the ongoing correction of oxygen deficit problems that grounded and restricted the fleet for months.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said July 24 that the Pentagon has “very high confidence that we’ve identified the issue” with the mysterious oxygen depletion problem that caused some F-22 pilots to feel dizzy and experience other symptoms of hypoxia. The Air Force now believes that a key problem was a valve in the pilots’ pressure vest that caused it to inflate and remain inflated, triggering breathing problems.

In mid-May, Panetta ordered that F-22 flights remain “within proximity of potential landing locations” so pilots could land quickly if they experienced a lack of oxygen.

As of July 24, after a briefing from Air Forces leaders July 20, Panetta has given the Air Force the green light to begin easing the restrictions, as changes are made to the fighter’s oxygen system. The Air Force is replacing the valve and increasing the volume of air flowing to the pilots by removing a filter that was installed to check for contaminants in the system.

Little said Panetta also authorized the deployment of a squadron of F-22s to Kadena Air Base in Japan. He said that the jets will fly to the base under altitude restrictions, but after that the Air Force will begin resuming most longer-duration flights. The precautions for the Japan flight, said Little, are part of the measured approach the Air Force is taking to gradually return to normal flights.

Over time, the Air Force also plans to install a new backup emergency oxygen system, add sensors and put in an improved pilot oxygen center.

Once the changes are complete, the Air Force will seek approval to remove the flight restrictions that limit it from flying at high altitudes.

“The secretary believes that pilot safety is paramount. The gradual lifting of restrictions will enable the Air Force to resume normal F-22 operations over time, while ensuring the safety of the incredible airmen who fly this critical aircraft,” said Little.

Little said he does not know the exact timeline for the return to normal operations. He noted that the flights to Japan will be at lower altitudes so that the vests would not have to be used.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, told Pentagon reporters that extensive testing has concluded that the problem was the amount of oxygen the pilots were getting, not the quality of the oxygen. And he said that the Air Force will modify and test the modified equipment “under the most demanding conditions,” over the coming months and then will go back to Panetta for final approval to lift the flight restrictions.

The problem came to light when pilots complained publicly about the oxygen depletion, prompting Panetta to order the flight limits.

The F-22, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is the Air Force’s most-prized stealth fighter. It was built to evade radar and is capable of flying at faster-than-sound speeds without using afterburners.

Asked why the problem was not discovered during its lengthy testing and development, Schwartz acknowledged, “we missed some things, bottom line.”

He said that the early testing did not reveal the shortcomings, and noted that some physiology and engineering expertise in the Air Force has diminished over the years.

So, Schwartz said the lesson is that the Air Force needs to pay better attention to the “man-machine interface” of its aircraft.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Army photograph by C. Todd Lopez

Army to launch cruise missile-detecting aerostat at Aberdeen Proving Ground

Army photograph by C. Todd Lopez The Army plans to launch an aerostat, part of the “Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor,” in late December 2014. The JLENS aerostat will be tethered to the...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Jordan Castelan

AF delivers Iraqi F-16s for training in US

Air Force photograph by SrA. Jordan Castelan Iraqi air force captain Hama conducts preflight inspections while inside a new to service Iraqi F-16 Fighting Falcon Dec. 17, 2014, located at the nearby Tucson International Airport...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. Derek VanHorn

Short-notice: A new way to exercise

Air Force photograph by SSgt. Derek VanHorn Airmen from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepare for an aeromedical evacuation exercise on a KC-135 Stratotanker Dec. 5, 2014, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The operation was executed in supp...
 

 
Lockheed Martin photograph by Andy Wolfe

Japan, Australia to provide F-35 maintenance sites in Pacific region

Lockheed Martin photograph by Andy Wolfe An F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter carrier variant prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean, Nov. 6, 2014. Japan and Australia will be sharing...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Maeson L. Elleman

Hanscom working to provide 5th, 4th gen aircraft common tactical picture

Air Force photograph by SrA. Maeson L. Elleman A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle taxis for takeoff on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 16, 2014. The Space, Aerial and Nuclear Networks Division at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is worki...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. Staci Miller

Australian F-35 lands at new home

Air Force photograph by SSgt. Staci Miller The first Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II jet arrives at Luke Air Force Bas, Ariz., Dec. 18, 2014. The jet’s arrival marks the first international partner F-35 to a...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>