Learning F-35 Lessons From F-22 Oxygen Errors

The Air Force says it has found the problem causing its F-22 pilots to suffocate in flight. Service officials are blaming it on a valve in the upper pressure garment vest and an air filter that was restricting oxygen volume.

The search for what caused the hypoxia-like symptoms for F-22 pilot took almost two years. It turns out the Pentagon is developing another fighter generation fighter jet. You might have heard of it, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz’s last press conference Tuesday as the service’s top officer, he was asked what gives him confidence something like this won’t happen to the F-35 — an aircraft with a development history littered with problems.

To his credit, Schwartz didn’t try to pretend more problems are not forthcoming for the Joint Strike Fighter.

“There’s no such thing as engineering perfection,” Schwartz said. Without test failures you’re “not really advancing the state of the art.”

In fact, he said problems have already popped up for F35, but that’s what happens when you push the boundaries of what’s possible in flight.

“I don’t doubt for a moment … and we found some already, frankly, in the F35. This is one of the things that I think is an important message. That the notion of perfection at the outset even with all the computer power we have … I think we went through a period that we could design perfect airplanes or build perfect airplanes,” Schwartz said.

He then gave Steve Jobs a shout out possibly giving legs to those questions about why the Air Force asked Lockheed Martin and not Apple to build it a fighter jet fleet.

“Apple may be the only one who has been successful at engineering near perfect products,” Schwartz said.

The outgoing Air Force chief of staff had a recommendation for his presumed successor, Gen. Mark Welsh, on avoiding similar drawn out problems seen in the F-22’s oxygen system.

“Test deep. Test thoroughly. Test continuously,” Schwartz said.

Also, hope none of your F-35 pilots go to 60 Minutes if you do find a problem you can’t figure out. Oh wait, that might have just been an editor’s note.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Matt


    No, really this time!

  • Lance

    Two BIG points use useful oxygen systems like off the F-15 or F-16 that work. And NO Chinese made parts!!!

    • porkroll

      I wonder too if the parts that caused the problem were defective in design or manufacture. If manufacturing was to blame, were they made in China? And if so, were they simply shoddily manufactured or counterfeit?

    • Riceball

      The F-15 & 16 don’t use an OBOG, if I’m not mistaken, they used bottled air. I’m guess that there was a specific reason why the Super Hornets, F-22s, and F-35 were all designed with OBOGs instead of the usual bottled air so using legacy systems is not the answer.

  • Nico

    what about iphone/ipad cable with less than 1 year life expectancy, does programmed obsolescence count as perfection? what about macbook aluminium case giving you a cute little electric shock now and then?

    • Matt

      Dont worry, these are The Smart People in Charge ™. Just trust them. They have a life tenure as a desk jockey. Sounds really important.

  • Chris

    I suppose Apple does have near-perfect engineering, when you ignore all the examples of bad engineering. Antennas that short out when you hold the phone a certain way, perhaps?

    • Pilgrimman

      Anyone can have “near-perfect engineering” as long as you’re willing to take out a second mortgage to afford it. Christ, I hate Apple.

    • ghostwhowalksnz

      The F35 front wheel probably has a similar parts count to the iphone . The computer which runs the F-35 fuel tank probably has as many lines of code as the ipad.

      • blight_

        I assume you meant “as many lines of code as the operating system”…?

    • Musson

      Even ‘near perfect’ can get you killed quickly at twice the speed of sound.

  • bmart.

    Don’t you just love when people with zero experience in a subject, think they know everything about the subject? I would sooner trust my shoelace to hold up my car than I would a fighter “engineered” by Apple.

    • Dfens

      Every heard of Space X?

      • bmart.

        Yes, I most certainly have, but I am not sure what you’re point is, considering the fact that SpaceX has nothing to do with Apple, and while they do most of their design, engineering, testing, and fabricating in-house, they also partner with NASA for quite a bit of their work. In addition to this, the people working for SpaceX are in no way inexperienced in this field(although don’t get me wrong, the program has not been airtight). I have no doubt in my mind that their engineers, program managers, and shop techs came with plenty of experience from related industries, after all it’s not as if SpaceX’s CEO went to the local Burger King and ordered his crew off the menu and asked for a side order of competency.

        • Dfens

          Yeah, after all Apple could never hire airplane engineers just to build airplanes… Duh.

          • blight_

            They’d hire some interface guys and leave the rest of it to their Chinese subcontractors.

            Oh wait…

    • JcRetired

      Because they would use talented people, with problem solving skills, to make something(iPhone. IBBQ Grill, IFighter?) on their own dime (cost overruns are on them), not blame the user (well what did you expect when you took your 20 Billion Stealth Fighter into the rain? That wasn’t written into the required specs that you gave us.). Smart always wins.
      Take for example our latest military fad of Service Fashion Show. Every service has its own camo uniform and boots. Sometimes several times over (WTF Air Force? You seem to be the only ones keeping it simple for once).
      With every service having diffuse uniforms (not to mention boots.) costs skyrocket. McNamera was an idiot, serviceman killing fool, but he did get things right with procurement. Right weopon, right price, right now. (To an extent. F-111B was just stupid).
      I’d buy an IGun if it worked as well as my iPhone/pad and was cost effective. Look at your gofasters. Where are they made?

  • JCRetired

    New fangled (15 years on) COMBAT EDGE??

  • Howe

    lol, it really is painfully sad that it took them 2 years to find the problem.
    Any other normal private company would have had that solved in under a month.

    I don’t like the fact that he is basically scolding the the AF pilots for going on 60 minutes, eventually people say enough is enough, and will tell everyone until the problem is fixed. The AF took waaaaaay to long to fix this issue, and once the fix all the Raptors and it turns out that they actually are fixed, I would hope they send out a formal apology to the family of the pilot who died because of this issue.

  • NoKidding

    More lessons here: (the Raptors got beat by the Eurofighters at Red Flag Alaska

    not that it’s a surprise.

    • ghostwhowalksnz

      Gee the thrust vectoring loses energy … Eurofighter doesnt have that… what a shame.
      IRST works a treat but F22 hasnt got one either

    • Pilgrimman


    • Praetorian


      Looks like the Raptor pilots have another story :

      That account, however, is strongly disputed by USAF sources flying the F-22. “It sounds as though we have very different recollections as to the outcomes of the BFM engagements that were fought,” one Raptor pilot says.

      USAF sources say that the Typhoon has good energy and a pretty good first turn, but that they were able to outmanoeuvre the Germans due to the Raptor’s thrust vectoring. Additionally, the Typhoon was not able to match the high angle of attack capability of the F-22. “We ended up with numerous gunshots,” another USAF pilot says.

  • So?

    The F-35 will not have the F-22’s problems, since it won’t have its performance either. Neither speed, nor altitude.

  • Johnny Ranger

    How is it that, with all the money we spend on the aircraft themselves, we don’t have a BVR missile with AT LEAST the same range as the nearest threat? How is it that we don’t have a HMD that fully exploits the capabilities if the AIM-9X? How is it that we can’t add an off-the-shelf IRST to this aircraft that supposedly has so much growth volume? It’s like buying a Rolls Royce with hand-cranked windows, no A/C, and an 8-track player! Insane.

  • Johnny Ranger

    Valid point about the design freeze, but I’ve also read from numerous sources that the aircraft was designed with capacity for new systems/expansions/upgrades, and would argue that if IRST and HMD weren’t around at that point, they emerged soon after – MiG-29’s have had them from very early on, and they ain’t exactly spring chickens anymore.

    I’m sure you’re vision assumptions are spot-on…meaning that we didn’t really learn the lessons we claimed to have learned with the F-4 in Vietnam. Sure, the Raptor has a gun, but that inclusion is starting to seem like a patronizing nod to dogfighting “lessons learned”….

    • Johnny Ranger

      I mean “your”, not “you’re”…

    • Matt

      Simple. The USAF and DoD put the F22 out to pasture. No more investment. No more upgrades. We need a new president and senate to in order to fire some of these lifer political desk jockeys in charge of the policies at these departments.

      • blight_

        There’s military capital within those organizations which will defend their Newest Product to the death if need be.

        The USAF put the -22 to pasture because the development spiral could not be stopped, ending with the -22 being capped at 187. Sometimes the R&D gets ahead of the number of units you buy, such as with Copperhead rounds, which cost a bundle but are superseded today by cheaper alternatives.

        Sometimes you can make lemonade from lemons. The Virginia SSN’s came from the lemon of expensive Seawolf. But generally, the procurement system is indeed not up to the task of getting something out the door on time and on budget.

        This is not unique to military systems. Look at the delays for the Dreamliner and the A380.

  • Tiger

    How about a new problem? Bad AMRAAM’s…..

    July 25, 2012: The U.S. Air Force has another mystery on its hands. The first one is why the F-22 air supply is making it difficult for some pilots to stay conscious. The second problem, which is actually almost as old, is all about defective rocket motors for AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. As a result of the rocket problem no missiles have been delivered for nearly two years. The delays have been due to faulty solid fuel rocket motors, which was discovered during testing that the air force performs on a few of every new batch of missiles. The problem is that when rocket motors are exposed to very cold conditions (as would happen when an aircraft is flying at a high altitude) they become unreliable. The air force is withholding over half a billion dollars in payments until the reliability problem is fixed. At the same time the manufacturer is frantically trying to discover the cause of the failures. The manufacturer insists that it is building the rocket motors the same way it has for three decades. So far it is a mystery as baffling as the one with the F-22 air supply.
    AMRAAM has been around for a while and undergone several upgrades, without problems appearing in components that are often built the same way they have been for decades. But there have been many changes to components, including lots of new stuff. Thus it’s likely that some of the components of the solid fuel (a slow burning explosive) rocket have changed and chemists are scrambling to find out what it is.

    AMRAAM entered service in 1992, more than 30 years after the first radar guided air-to-air missile (the AIM-7 Sparrow) appeared. AMRAAM was designed to fix all the reliability and ease-of-use problems that cursed the AIM-7. But AMRAAM has had only had a few opportunities to be used in combat, and over half of those launched have hit something. The AIM-120D version entered service five years ago, has longer range, greater accuracy, and resistance to countermeasures. So far, AMRAAMs have spent nearly 2 million hours hanging from the wings of jet fighters in flight. Some 2,400 AMRAAMs have been fired, mostly in training or testing operations. That’s about a quarter of those produced.

    AMRAAM weighs 172 kg (335 pounds), is 3.7 meters (12 feet) long, and 178mm (7 inches) in diameter. AMRAAM has a max range of 70 kilometers. These missiles cost about a million dollars each. They are complex mechanical, electronic, and chemical systems and each of them, on average, suffers a component failure every 1,500 hours.

    The air force and the navy have had an increasing number of incidents where their suppliers of high-tech weapons and equipment screwed up. Cancelling orders and taking manufacturers to court has not eliminated the problems. The military accuses the manufacturers of having a bad attitude, feeling that if there are problems it’s easier to cozy up to members of Congress than it is to fix the technical problems. So far, that seems to be working, while the weapons and equipment don’t.


  • biffbutkus

    Holy crap you guys are incredibly dense…

    The AMRAAM issue is related to a NEW rocket motor for the D model.

    As for Red Flag~
    The blogger at the aviationist site betrays his lack of knowledge about aircraft with his silly assertion that the Raptor’s TV causes the aircraft to lose energy. He is simply parroting the German squadron commander’s similarly silly statement about the Raptor “sinking”.

    If you read any other accounts of this exercise you would know that the German’s claims are disputed by the USAF (but we all know they are pathalogical liars no?) and questionable at best. Better climb rate and acceleration? Riiight…. Also, the Raptor pilots were not wearing their Combat Edge suits, so they were limited to 40k altitude and likely G-restricted…and yet they still were basically even with the “slicked down” Eurofighter in canned WVR scenarios (1V1 etc). Even the German admitted that in BVR, the Raptor was “overwhelming.”

    • carl

      the Indian Su’s that went to the US for an exercise the other year (red flag I think) also had this problem with TV and “sinking”. I assume the raptor pilots were hard pressed to get into such problems.

    • Alumbrados

      Actually, it does bleed energy, by redirecting it. The more thrust you use for pitch the less you have along the velocity vector, so it does reduce the amount of power for forward flight. Also, with the reduction in thrust at altitude it’s easier to over do your maneuvering, but that’s because the pilots were probably pulling too hard and bleeding energy faster than they should have. It’s simply a training issue, which is the primary reason for these exercises.

      We did the same thing to the Indian Su-30’s with TV when our F-16’s fought them here at one of the Red Flag exercises. The Indian pilots were too ham-fisted and bled their E in tight turns using TV, so the F-16’s just went vertical and came down on top of them and smoked them.

      Having said that, my understanding is their were a hell of a lot more F-22 kills of Tiffies, than there were of Tiffies taking out Raptors.

  • Tim UK

    F22’s are too few in number , the USAF never factored in their future war plans having so few.

    In a high tempo modern air war is the USAF going to let F15’s tussle with 5th Gen Russian and Chinese jets while the JSF and F22 are having their stealth coatings touched up ?

    Both are hanger queens and a jump to far in tech, I would take a large forec of typhoons over a small force of either of the above.

    The Typhoon can operate at hi tempo and will hold its own against the Russian and Chinese threats due to superior training,weapons and avionic.

    • tiger

      Honestly future war plans will not even see much air to air action anyway. Other than a few shots in the Gulf War, Mig chasing ability has not been needed much since 1973. Very pricey planes for a Cold War foe in a Al Quedia world. China is a dream foe, not a real one.

      • Praetorian

        As of Jan. 2012 the UK only had 86 operational Typhoons with another 74 more on order. This will give the UK a total of 160 Typhoons. Will the UK be more spread out then the USA ??

        • Praetorian

          Sorry tiger the above post was for Tim UK

        • tiger

          The RAF & RN are in a rather sad state today. Too many jobs to do with too few people or equipment. Any idea how many how many Tornados are in service still?

          • Praetorian

            as of Dec. 2011 124 GR4’s & GR4A’s, might be less now.

  • matheusdiasuk

    Well, a Jet made by Apple would sold a lot.