Pentagon taking renewed flak over F-22's oxygen issues

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

The U.S. military's most advanced fighter aircraft, the stealth F-22 Raptor, is causing more headaches at the Pentagon.

According to numerous sources, two members of Congress are now calling for answers about the so-far unproductive investigation of reported breathing system malfunctions aboard the most expensive jet fighter ever built.

According to the Air Force, each F-22 fighter costs the government $142 million. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that including costs for research and development and upgrades, the jets cost taxpayers $412 million each.

The mysterious problems affecting the jets, constructed by Lockheed Martin, have resulted in at least 24 reports of incidents involving hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, reportedly including seven serious crashes and at least one pilot fatality.

The November 2010 crash of an F-22 Raptor claimed the life of U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeff Haney, who crashed near Healy, Alaska.  Haney was based at Alaska's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage. The Air Force crash investigation blamed Haney for the mishap, despite acknowledging a life-support system failure that deprived him of oxygen prior to his loss of control.

The entire fleet of Raptors has been grounded twice. In September 2011, the most recent grounding was lifted without the oxygen problem being resolved. In May, a small group of pilots declared they would refuse to fly the jets until the problem was identified and corrected.

Since the planes returned to service last September, there have been at least 11 reports of hypoxia among F-22 pilots, most recently one in Virginia and another in Hawaii on Friday.

Continuing reports that the most advanced jet in US military history is still harming its pilots have prompted two members of Congress to get vocal about the situation.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, say that reported oxygen-shortage incidents may be more numerous than the Pentagon has reported. They've asked to see records of tests of breathing system components. They have given Pentagon officials 30 days to respond.

Accounts of the latest development in the checkered life of the Raptor are thick across the entire Internet, but some highlights are reported by the L.A. Times here, by Wired Magazine's national security blog here, and Stars and Stripes, here.