F-22 Raptor pilots make problems public

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“If all that were in my chain of command, there would be some heads rolling somewhere,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles D. Link. “Pilots shouldn’t have to go to congressmen and get whistleblower protection in order to get relief from some kind of problem. It just shouldn’t happen. There’s a chain-of-accountability breakdown there somewhere.”

Retired Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, who logged 4,000 flying hours in fighters in Vietnam and other venues, offered blunt advice: “The Air Force has a problem, and they should not ground pilots or reprimand them. The Air Force should fix the problem.”

The ‘Raptor cough’

The Air Force says the 25 cases of pilot hypoxia, the most frequent for any fighter aircraft, stems from one of two problems: Either the onboard oxygen generation system is not providing sufficient air or the air itself is contaminated.

Until technicians figure it out, Gen. McInerney said, the Air Force should employ the Vietnam-era system of installing oxygen bottles in the cockpit and “get rid of the [oxygen generation] system, which is the problem.”

Col. Sholtis said the Air Force has discussed using oxygen bottles but has not made a final decision. What it has tried to do, after the plane was grounded for five months last year, is make the F-22 safer.

“We instituted a number of measures designed to protect our pilots, ensure the safe completion of operations and assess the possible physiological effects of flying the aircraft,” he said.

Those include conducting blood and pulmonary-function tests and providing each pilot with an in-flight pulse oximeter, which monitors the amount of oxygen in the blood.

The service also installed activated carbon C2A1 filters to trap any contaminants moving through the oxygen-generating machine into the pilots’ throats and lungs.

That created another problem: Carbon dust leaked into the hoses and, according to CBS, into pilots’ throats, causing what pilots have dubbed the “Raptor cough.”

Col. Sholtis said the dust has been used in air and water systems for years “without any significant evidence of harm.”

He said 30 throat swabs were taken from pilots and no carbon was found. An analysis of more than 500 filters showed “no significant levels of contaminants.”

The service discontinued the filters and is installing contaminant sensors to monitor the air hoses.

Pilot error or cover-up?

The Nov. 16, 2010, crash of an F-22 Raptor that killed pilot Capt. Jeffrey Haney involved a lack of oxygen in the cockpit.

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