Air Force Redesigns F-22 Emergency Oxygen Handles

Remember the Air Force’s accident report on the December 2010 F-22 crash in Alaska, where the service basically blamed the pilot for not switching on his emergency oxygen system system in time to avoid a crash?

The report said the airman accidentally pointed his jet toward the ground when he reached for the poorly-placed backup oxygen system handle after his jet’s main oxygen system shut down (something that led his widow to sue F-22-maker Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors.). It went on to infer that if he had reached for the handle and realized he was in a dive sooner, he might still be alive despite the poor placement of the switch.

Well, that emergency oxygen system handle was so poorly designed that the Air Force is retrofitting F-22s with a new emergency oxygen system handle.

From an Air Force announcement:

The modification is to the F-22’s Emergency Oxygen System handle, which makes it easier for the pilot to access. Det 1 model makers Floyd Slinker and Terry Waugh designed it.

Approximately 200 handles, which cost $47 apiece to manufacture, have been delivered, including spares. The handles have already been fielded at the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

“The fact that this detachment was able to do this quickly, cheaply and effectively, and get it into the hands of our aircrews shows them the Air Force is involved and working to get the F-22 recommendations in place as quickly as possible,” Lyon said. “I wanted to come by today and thank the folks who came up with the idea, designed it, programmed it, machined it, mailed it, paid for it, and got it out there in a very rapid manner. I’m very proud of the unit for what they’ve done.”

The handle was one of the F-22 components identified by a Scientific Advisory Board, which studied safety issues on the jet, as one of the critical items to be fixed. The SAB, an independent board working under the direction of the Air Force, investigated the oxygen systems in the jet after months of problems with the main and backup systems.

“The handle provides the pilot much easier access to the handle, provides an easier grip, especially when wearing cold weather gear, and allows the pilot to apply more leverage to the activation ring,” said Lt. Col. Beachel Curtis, Det 1 commander.

  • Dfens

    Oh yeah, this was obviously pilot error. It is a pure coincidence that they’re redesigning this handle. Nothing to see here. Go watch a basketball game or something.

    • Nadnerbus

      I feel bad for the widow here. I would be frigging livid right now. The politicization of the F-22 helps no one, and does little to discern the truth of its problems. This plane is going to be the backbone of our air superiority force for decades. Covering up issues by throwing the pilot under the bus just makes it more difficult to get it up to the operational level we need it to be at. It is good that they are addressing the issue, but it seems obvious they have sacrificed the pilot’s reputation to avoid painful public attention.

      So to summarize, if I have the story correct, pilot is flying along, when oxygen either cuts out or become tainted, lower supply, whatever. He quickly gropes around to find the handle/switch to go to back up, which is located in such an out of the way place that he takes a while to get it right, knocking the nose of the plane into a crash heading. He realizes too late, ends up dead with a 100+ million dollar aircraft destroyed. Problem? Pilot error.

      Do I have that right?

      • blight_

        There was some drama associated with F-16s and widows (Janet Harduvel)…

        “The Supreme Court’s adoption of the government contractor defense recognizes that one of these risks is the operation of equipment in which safety concerns have been balanced against cost and performance. With respect to consumer goods, state tort law may hold manufacturers liable where such a balance is found unreasonable. In the sensitive area of federal military procurement, however, the balance is not one for state tort law to strike. Although the defense may sometimes seem harsh in its operation, it is a necessary consequence of the incompatibility of modern products liability law and the exigencies of national defense.

        We conclude that plaintiff’s claims are subject to the government contractor defense, and that the record before us establishes the conditions of the defense. ”

    • Dfens

      Actually, I found out that more than just the handle was fixed. It seems this is the only part they are owning up to publicly, and probably they’re only owning up to that because it is too hard to hide. It is very sad that the pilot has become the scapegoat for every airplane crash. We claim to (and no doubt do) have the best pilots in the world, then we throw them under the bus the minute something goes wrong. That’s not how a country continues to have the best pilots in the world.

      So where are those pieces of crap that normally show up on these boards to tell us how it must have been pilot error now? I’m sure we can count on them to show up the next time an airplane crashes.

  • Zeyn

    we are paying top dollars for this cutting edge jet and we cant design a goddamn handle?

    • blight_

      The handle is similar in design to that of other American aircraft. Food for thought.

      • Bill Roberts

        The problem is OBOGS, with the ECS light on the pilot had no way of getting any oxygen other than his emergency oxygen bottle. Never had this problem when we had a LOX system in the F-4 and F-15. The “green apple” was never easy to reach, you had to practice. Combine night time, single seat, cold weather gear, and the panic caused by not being able to breathe and you can see a disaster coming. The “system” put the pilot into a box he couldn’t easily get out of!

        • blight_

          Perhaps it’s a testament to the reliability of legacy LOX that this didn’t happen any sooner.

        • crew chief

          I disagree with calling it an OBOGS problem. F-16’s have OBOGS and F-15E’s have MSOGS. They are both reliable systems in those aircraft. I believe there may be an underlying problems of 5th gen aircraft with OBOGS that we haven’t discovered yet (i.e. somehow contaminates are infiltrating the ECS/OBOGS system, perhaps PAO from the TMS).

      • Zeyn

        2 wrongs dont make a right

  • William C.

    Cut corners cost lives.

    • Dfens

      I do not believe this was a case of cutting corners, William. I am convinced this was just straight up incompetence at work. The problem is, how do you get the contractors to fix incompetence when it pays better than competence?

      • Riceball

        I’m not sure that it’s incompetence so much as poor ergonomics by the engineers. They either didn’t have or ignored the advice of an experienced when designing the cokpit layout. Engineers tend to have a habit of ignoring usability/accessibility when designing things and forgetting about the end user. Whoever decided to put the emergency O2 lever where it was probably never really thought or had a realistic idea of how it might to access it in a true emergency, they probably figured it was in a decent spot, nice and out of the way yet accessible except that they probably only tested it under ideal conditions.

        • Dfens

          Poor ergonomics don’t happen in a 25 year development program because someone had a bad weekend. In the case of the F-22, there is a group of 20-30 people dedicated to the physical layout of the coc kpit. There’s probably 4 times as many who write software for the various displays and controls. Then there is the fact that the article itself says, “the handle was ONE OF the F-22 components identified…to be fixed.” Obviously you don’t know what the rest of those components are, nor do you know how they are being fixed. But why should the facts get in the way of a good whitewash? Obviously the Accident Investigation Board didn’t feel constrained by any facts when it pinned all the blame for the crash on the pilot.

          • passingby

            Dfens, you are right. On the competence hurdle, I think the US is going to have an increasingly hard time to overcome because there will be less money and fewer competent engineers. The vast majority of students in good engineering schools and PhD programs are foreign born or of foreign ethnicity. They are unlikely to be hired for top secret projects, nor are they inclined to apply given the scrutiny, mistrust, and danger of scapegoating they will be facing on the job. Besides, as funds start to dwindle, pay packages will begin to shrink. As China begin to offer million-dollar class job offers for competent engineers and scientists on the international market, brain drain in the US will likely be another problem on the horizon.

          • Dfens

            Typically, companies like Boeing and Lockheed lose 80% of college new hires within 2 years. I don’ t know if that number has been affected by the current economic conditions, but it has held pretty steady over the last couple of decades. You can see it in these kid’s eyes when they get here. It’s like falling through a looking glass. Right is wrong, good is bad, less is more. Once they realize that they are not being hazed and that there is no fixing what is wrong, they start pumping out resumes by the hundreds. That’s why the mean age of an aerospace engineer is mid-50’s and climbing.

          • passingby

            I’ve heard quite a few similar accounts. Looks like ASA will be facing serious “brain damage” in the coming years, too.

          • passingby

            edit: meant to say “NASA will be …

    • itfunk

      William Crook just wants to spend more money. If that means killing pilot he’s on record in multiple forums not caring less.

      • William C.

        Standard itfunk/oblat post. Lots of claims, no facts, no quotes, no signs of intelligence.

        • passingby

          Sorry but I have seen a lot of claims from you, but no facts, no links, no support, and no signs of common sense, much less intelligence. Your views on 9-11 and the insulting 9-11 Commission Report would be a good illustration.

          Nobody with good common sense, objectivity, and sound basic knowledge in physics can possibly find the 9-11 Commission Report remotely believable. I don’t know where or how you manage to muster so much false confidence in yourself. But make no mistakes, the biggest enemy of the American people is the US government and the criminal syndicate controlling it from behind the scene.

          You will be a victim of the criminal US government in due time, as will many others like you. And it will be too late when you finally realize how badly you’ve been fooled by the govt and its propaganda machines.

  • Lance

    Lets see if the new system wont end up making the same problems for pilots.

  • tehbeefer

    little things

  • Skyepapa

    This bodes pretty well for the widow’s law suit.

  • Splitpi

    I don’t think this is a case of cutting corners… I think this is a case of failed Human Machine Interface and cockpit layout. I.e the requirements drove design contrary to the requirements intent.

    • guess

      Wouldn’t a non working primary oxygen system be cutting corners? They fielded the plane knowing full well something was wrong with it

      • Vstress

        All aircraft are rarely fielded with 100% things working at the start of a production run. In particular military aircraft, they work on “envelopes”, where the aircraft is slowly permitted to fly bigger envelopes.

        Welcome to reality. This is not the car industry where you build 1000s of models in the first year. You get something wrong, you still try to get it to work if possible. Failure, even of one aircraft component which results in an aircraft grounded, costs HUGE amounts of money.

        • guess

          Ok that is a decent point.
          But the primary oxygen system doesn’t work, pilots need to breath.
          Also production is officially over and the problem still isn’t fixed and due to this problem the planes have spent a large portion of time grounded

      • Amicus Curiae


  • -dp

    I must have been sleeping in grad school but the first thing I thought of was “subsequent remedial measures”; that is, can the widow use this as proof that the design was flawed and contributed to her husband’s death. Well, according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure - Rule 407, it appears her legal team cannot:

    “…When, after an event, measures are taken which, if taken previously, would have made the event less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with the event. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of subsequent measures when offered for another purpose, such as proving ownership, control, or feasibility of precautionary measures, if controverted, or impeachment…”

    • passingby

      Yes, you must have been sleeping in LAW school (NOT grad school, law is merely vocational training).

      Rules of Evidence and Rules of Civil Procedure are entirely different things.

      And just what makes you think you can judge the legal merits of a case based on spotty reports from the media???

  • McPosterdoor

    Let’s work on why he had to use the emergency oxygen in the first place.

    • tiger

      Still not solved. But your right. Till then, the F-22 is not ready for prime time.

  • guess

    Random question but what you’re of Oxygen system does the F35 have

    • crew chief

      OBOGS as well.

      • guess

        Any idea if it is working properly on the F35?
        And thanks for being able to understand that, didn’t catch the autocorrect error

        • blight_

          Considering how little flight time the -35’s have its hard to see.

          • guess

            Sadly that was what I figured

  • Stephen

    I would have thought if there was a problem “the system” would have figured it out. made the switch and informed the pilot and the ground engineers all at once…
    It would be tough if the pilot was engaged in some other activity, you can’t just ask the bad guys to wait for a few moments while you look for some more air ???

  • MGC

    hmmm should my uncle have sued the army when some poor maintainer filled his UH-1’s transmission topside with hydraulic fluid instead of transmission fluid in RVN. Thankfully he caught it during pre-flight. Machines are complicated, pilots are paid to take risks and sometimes things go wrong period. Study the failures and correct the procedure looks like that is what the AF is doing.

    • Rabbit

      I mean no disrespect to your uncle but if he had died in the UH-1 crash would you not have been tempted at the very least, to sue the manufacturer? I think people are too quick to cry “whitewash” but I’d say that she was justified in this case due to a fundamental error in the Raptor’s design, meaning that it directly contributed to her husband’s death.

    • Nadnerbus

      This would be more like your uncle taking off in said UH-1, the transmission goes out, and then while he tries to auto rotate to a landing, he has to reach under the seat and root around between his legs to cut fuel, or do whatever else hello pilots have to do in an emergency.

      The issue people have is not so much that the machine is imperfect, but that the blame has been placed on the pilot rather than owning up to the flaw in the first place.

    • blight_

      That would be an error of the draftee back in the day, and the Army claims sovereign immunity in such cases.

      That said, that is why you have pre-flight checks; and it’s good that he caught it.

  • William C.

    Does anybody know how did they fix this whole mess when it was occurring to the F/A-18 fleet?

  • Sgt. Buffy

    Open ended question: What are they doing currently to fix the core issue, that the o2 bleeds? Handles are great, but this is like building a more ergonomic steering wheel when your power-steering pump fails. Important, especially if your steering wheel is under the seat in the form of a ring, but….

  • JackBlack

    Pilot error is now an acronym for Air Force Redesigns F-22 Emergency Oxygen Handles.
    Tell it to the wife and family, cheaparses.

  • itfunk

    The F-35 takes the whole contractors attitude of “every crash is revenue positive” to the next level. An aircraft too dangerous to train on is being relentlessly pushed forward by Lockheed with disregard for the deaths that will result.

  • Big-Rick

    What can’t a single “star” in any service own up to anything? All he blame get’s pushed downward.

    In private industry, if there’s a big screw up the CEO gets fired

    In the Navy ship captains get fired left and right for anything and everything. But the stars never get fired for POOR leadership. I guess once you put a star on your shoulder you are now a ‘made’ man (or woman) and therefore is untouchable.

    • blight_

      Not necessarily. BG Karpinski got demoted and dumped from the service after Abu Ghraib. However military higher ups, political entities and Other Government Agency got away with it.

  • Douglas

    This lesson was actually first learned during the early years of WWII. The flap control lever and the landing gear lever on a particular aircraft were next to each other down by the side of the pilot’s seat, and both had the same design, a round knob on the end of a short lever. Pull the wrong lever after you’ve landed and you dropped the aircraft on it’s belly. The quick fix was to put a square knob on one of the levers, later the location was changed so that both levers were not next to each other.

  • William C.

    Thinking about this I don’t know if saying corners were cut is correct. Rather I think this was an ergonomics issue that got overlooked or was a simple mistake. Call it incompetence if you wish, but some “minor” ergonomic factors are overlooked on any new aircraft, and there are many examples from all eras of aviation of this. In an ideal world pilots would have noticed the bad placement and this would have been corrected earlier.

    This is an improvement that should be incorporated anyway, but the real problem with the OBOGS still needs to be fixed. Improving the backup system isn’t a true solution.

    Blaming the pilot for this mistake was quite simply wrong. Yes he may have crashed while trying to activate the backup system, but OBOGS shouldn’t have malfunctioned to begin with. For example, if an aircraft is lost in a crash landing, does one blame the pilot for “not doing it right” or blame what forced him to crash land? It should be the latter.

    The F-22 is and should be important to the USAF and our military interest. But that doesn’t excuse leadership blaming the pilot to avoid bad press. The media will attack any program regardless of what goes wrong or right, we’ve seen that since the ’80s. Admit that there was a problem with the design, but when they try to claim it somehow proves the whole design is rotten, correct them.

    • Dfens

      It would be a simple ergonomics issue if the handle were all that needed to be changed on the F-22. More than just that handle was changed.

  • Gerry

    The error, as I see it is blaming the pilot for a serious design flaw, just to cover their butts.

    • Amicus Curiae

      I don’t know why no one is talking about this, but FYI: All ACES-II seats have the emergency O2 ring in the same location. Yes, essentially the entire US Air Force has the same design for emergency O2 activation. There are some important detail differences in the area for different jets, but the location and the ring itself are identical, and have been this way for at least 30 years. it is a dangerous design? Why didn’t we know a little earlier?

  • Kball

    Other people have been able to reach the emergency oxygen just fine. It is unfortunate that this guy, after all of that training, couldn’t find it when he needed it. Besides, all he had to do was drop his mask… he could have breathed the air in the cockpit during a controlled descent.

    • Craig

      You have no clue what you are talking about. He was above 50K feet when the aircraft shut off all bleed air. OBOGS and the ECS immediately died. No O2 in the mask and the cockpit (which was probably in the low 20’s, fighters don’t pressurize to sea level) started to de-pressurize very quickly. There was rapidly no air to breathe.TUC at 50K is 6-9 seconds. At 35K it’s 30-60 seconds. That can be cut in half by rapid depressurization.

  • Amicus Curiae

    Please consider reading the series of anecdotes here:…
    before making rash judgements about criminal intent.

  • TonyC

    The bleed air oxygen generating system is not reliable and should be replaced with the LOX bottle system of the F-15.
    Seems the LOX tanks will degrade the stealth of the airframe, but there has to be
    a way to coat the tanks or refelct thet energy?
    Letting the pilots figure out they have hypoxia and react to it is not logical.

  • Benjamin Goulart

    The LOX tanks would just need a properly shaped cover not to mess up the internal cockpit’s RCS.

    My guess is there’s some material, part, or chemical treatment in the oxygen generating system and air processing loop that is outgassing something toxic, possibly in response to normal operation at any altitude, possibly as a result of exposure to low atmospheric pressures. I don’t think it’s a matter of not enough oxygen pressure being delivered into the pilot’s lungs.

    F-22 is a great aircraft. F-23 was probably better and less B.S. promoting it. But the F-22 people appear to have had more political connection than Northrop.

    • blight_

      They had juice from the F-117 project?

  • Benjamin Goulart

    Some kid’s going to read this and wonder why some moron wrote an anti-spam and anti-swear filter that put four asterisks in a completely normal word… on a defense tech website. Puritanical idiocy.

  • Fleagle22

    wow, lots of guessing from the gallery.
    handle is an ergo improvement to the ring. ring is standard for all ACES2.
    ACES2 and OBOGS are not unique to F22,
    F15 incorporates LOX or OBOGS. series and block driven.
    LOX and stealth,,, not sure where to start but dont have the time.
    chem treatment? try sieve beds.
    air processing loop? try surge regulated distribution plenum - one way flow.

  • Jim

    How do you aquire an F-22?

    Buy an acre of land, then wait.

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