AF admits F-22 mistakes to Congress

Air Force leaders admitted to Congress Thursday the service was wrong not to immediately install a backup oxygen system and is only now getting around to making fixes to the F-22’s oxygen schedule recommended in 2005.

The Air Force has spent the past two years trying to determine why their F-22 pilots suffer hypoxia-like symptoms in flight with many reporting feeling light-headed, weak and nauseous. Service officials have repeatedly grounded the F-22 fleet as the fifth generation fighter still flies under altitude and distance restrictions because of fears for pilots’ safety.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Charlie Lyon, Air Combat Command’s director of operations, Clinton Cragg, principal engineer at NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center, and retired Air Force Gen. Gregory Martin, head of Air Force Scientific Advisory Board study on the F-22’s problems, each testified before Congress on the steps the Air Force has taken to make the F-22 safer. Cragg joined the hearing because NASA, along with the Navy and Marine Corps, has aided the Air Force in its research.

Air Force leaders had declared that they have identified a the culprits causing the problems for pilots to include the breathing regulator/anti-g (BRAG) valve on the Combat Edge upper pressure garment. The Air Force is replacing the valve, installing a new back-up oxygen system and changing the oxygen schedule for the F-22’s onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS).

Engineers and scientists had recommended the Air Force change the oxygen schedule for the OBOGS in 2005. The Air Force chose not to. The changes being made now are more comprehensive, Lyon said.

Martin also told Congress the Air Force should have installed a back up oxygen system. Original designs for the F-22 included the back up system, but they were scrapped in order to save weight.

“In retrospect, that was not an appropriate decision,” Martin said.

The Air Force expects to have the first back up oxygen systems installed by January and finish the install to the rest of the fleet by 2014.

At the beginning of the Air Force’s investigation into the F-22, officials suspected the breathing problems were caused by toxins getting into the cockpit. Cragg said his NASA scientists agreed with the Air Force’s conclusion that this was not the case.

Martin made a pitch during the hearing to Congress to re-invest in the Air Force’s human systems integration program. He said some of the problems found in the investigation of the F-22’s oxygen system could have been caught earlier. He blamed down sizing of the military in the 1990s.

“Flight medicine, aviation physiology, and research and development atrophied significantly in those years, at the time the airplane was going into a different environment,” Martin said. “All the people that would normally have done the testing and evaluation and all the things we do to learn about those environments were no longer in the military, no longer in our civilian workforce.”

— Bryant Jordan contributed to this report.

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.
  • duuude

    Luftwaffe Raptor Salad

  • Chops

    While the AF isn’t blameless in this I could have sworn it was LM that built these planes not the USAF–let’s put the blame where it belongs.

  • Michael

    “Martin also told Congress the Air Force should have installed a back up oxygen system. Original designs for the F-22 included the back up system, but they were scrapped in order to save weight.”

    I recall a bunch of stuff was taken out of the F-35 to save weight. Was the back up OBOGS one of them?

  • Lance

    This is not a surpise. The USAF coverd the problem up from the start instaed of admitting a mistake and fixing it. They wanted congress to think the F-22 had no faults. Time for some house cleaning of corrupt Generals in the pentagon. Overall the cheap fix is to install the F-15s system to it.

    • citanon

      Take a look at the NASA testimony:
      http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/arti

      The problem was not simple, and installing the F-15 system, or back up Oxygen is not going to fix it. These problems were also present in other legacy air craft but the Air Force had accommodated them before the Raptor crashes.

      It really does seem that we need to reconstitute the flight physiology capabilities that were lost, and that it will take substantial research and investment to counteract the physiological effects of operating higher performance fighter aircraft.

      This story is not finished, because we have discovered a deeper problem than OBOGS.

      • k_smithwick

        Retrofitting F-15 fleet to F-15SE (Silent Eagle) standard would seem to be a better interim solution. Especially from a practical view,a retrofit would be more cost-efficient and reliable.More so consider the current nature of warfare which includes military against 2nd rate conventional militaries aka Syria/Iran.The current hardware will prove sufficient to combat these threats more so with these modification implemented.As oppose to untested and potentially unreliable air frames.In addition there is practical applications of simply retraining F-15 pilots to fly the modified air frames.Although we all know the issue speaks more of the arrogance of the Pentagon and corruption within the Arms industry.

  • Jeffrey

    I remember seeing an earlier post by an expert who said the glue used to keep the stealth coating on is toxic. I wonder if the air force has investigated the hypoxia suffered by F-22 pilots from that angle. It makes sense because when glue is inhaled it can cause blackouts.

    • steve

      I remember this. It was also around the time that reports of ground crews getting symptoms also came out. That is what made his claim really carry some weight. I wonder if the two problems are separate or not.

  • RunningBear

    So a good man, pilot died for 15 lbs. of O2 equipment whose weight doesn’t matter; that stings! Gee, I hope they fix this debacle; soon!

    • Amicus Curiae

      No, RunningBear. No. You are missing the point entirely. It was a lack of emphasis on aeromedicine that allowed the old ways of life support to continue in the F-22 when its performance is beyond the tolerance of a good percentile of human beings. Regarding the automatic emergency oxygen system (which will be a first in any fighter jet and begs the question of retrofit for all legacy equipment), it may have helped in the Capt. Haney accident. However, there are scores of other possible malfunctions to critical systems that have emergency procedures specified for the pilot. Do we automate all those too, at 15 lbs and $50 million each? Regarding the glue used to keep the stealth coating on (sic), if you want to believe it, knock yourself out.

  • SJE

    The force reduction argument is BS blame shifting.

    In war, and in peace time, you have to allocate your resources. This is their top of the line aircraft. The problem was identified about a decade years ago, and specific fixes recommended 7 years ago. The AF decided not to take the recommendations of their own consultants. pilots died, and AF went down/

    The AF brass made the wrong call. This is not “lack of resources”, its bad leadership, with a side dose of cowardly failure to man up and accept responsibility.

    • Amicus Curiae

      I am not so sure a wrong call was made on the oxygen schedule for the F-22 life support. It is pretty much comparable to other jets. It could be better, but it is not wrong. You might want to investigate why the order was given to override the automatic schedule and select max oxygen all the time…and what the result was. While you are at it, check on the Navy. They have an oxygen schedule you might not agree with.

  • SJE

    Sorry, “Aircraft went down”

  • Big-Dean

    Generals lied, pilots died

    • steve

      Generals that make their mistakes, ALWAYS seem to cause someones DEATH doesn’t it? Someone OTHER than their own!

  • Tim UK

    Death Traps ! Meanwhile the JSF will suck at least 38% of the US defense procurement budget over god knows how may years.

    Give me Europe’s Typhoon and Rafale fleets any day .

    • Ftrplt

      Oh yeah, those are awesome, Not!

    • Amicus Curiae

      Yup, if you just need an elite flying club, those are my picks too. If you are in a desperate situation to save yourself and defend a way of life against overwhelming odds, I would go another way.

  • stephen russell

    Yeah, see how fast the AF would act if 1 F22 did crash due to oxygen issue.
    Whole system is corrupt: defense contractors & top brass.
    So who aside the enemy benefits if some F22s do crash??

    • Stormcharger

      Apparently not very fast as at least one of the F22 crashes is attributable to the oxygen system. And the only ones who benefit from it all are the ones still not being held accountable for decisions made. I wish I could blame down-sizing on why I didn’t pay the IRS, that would be cool, and no lives would have been lost…

      • SJE

        Here here.
        Much as I worry about shortchanging our military, the large budgets and reluctance to second guess the military allows incompetent brass and overpaid contractors to continue business as usual. Why wasn’t Congress going after this General? People have died, and the taxpayers are being stiffed billions, and Congress just lets him pass the buck?

      • Amicus Curiae

        Storm, I would like to dispute your statement that the crash was attributable to the oxygen system. A shutdown of the OBOGGS was commenced when a hot air leak was detected by a sensor and engine bleed air was blocked by automatic (yes automatic) isolation action that was anticipating a possible fire. The pilot was alerted to the condition and was then obligated to perform emergency procedures, the most urgent of which was to pull the green ring for the emergency oxygen system. He failed to do this for a reason that can never be known with certainty, but everyone has strong opinions. The time for all this drama was about 55 seconds from warning to impact. Maybe another automatic system would have helped him and maybe not. Maybe the automatic system that is being installed now will have its own unintended safety issues. Maybe you should get on the approval list to sign off on that so a serious person can finally be held accountable. They could use your expertise.

    • Rotten Roger

      Just who is the Enemy? Bet their benefits are $$$$. Gotta remember Eisenhower’s warning.

  • LetsLobRob

    Hmmmmmm…

  • Tiger

    Well now that you have admitted mistakes, I want SOMEBODY TO PAY FOR them!!! When will we see one head roll for this mess? In the USAF, At the system maker, at Lock Mart?

    • Amicus Curiae

      Ah, we are in Phase 5. Tiger is pushing to be part of Phase 6.
      1.Enthusiasm,
      2.Disillusionment,
      3.Panic and hysteria,
      4.Search for the guilty,
      5.Punishment of the innocent, and
      6.Praise and honor for the nonparticipants.

    • Retired Chief

      Chances are anybody in authority to make those decisions has already moved on by now.

  • dave reed

    Cost cutting saves Money $$$$, NOT Lives – Airborne

  • Ron

    WW3 ignites and the F22’s falls off the skies, tsk-tsk.

  • M59APC

    I can see why the AIR FORCE seemed unconcerned they were’nt the one flying it.
    It would be a different story if it were one of their sons or daughters- now thats important!

    • Amicus Curiae

      It would be a different story if the sons and daughters die in combat because the equipment is on a par with the enemy too. That is what is important, not peacetime training.

  • PolicyWonk

    Given the lives put in danger – and the cost to the taxpayers for the training of the pilots – let alone the cost of the aircraft – the backup oxygen system should’ve been put in as soon as the problems were recognized.

    Otherwise – it’s purely negligence.

    • SJE

      I’m not going to second guess them as to the best solution. However, but they knew of the problem, and a proposed solution 7 years ago. That they failed to do something to fix this problem is pure negligence.

    • Amicus Curiae

      PW, there is an emergency oxygen system, just like is on all the other fighter jets. It is manually activated, just like on all other fighter jets.

  • Woody

    JUST FIX THE DAM THING….We’re going to be needing that aircraft to stare down them dam Chi-coms….

    • Amicus Curiae

      What if it ain’t broke?

  • Big-Dean

    You see, here in lies the problem

    There is zero accountability for O-7 and above. When was the last time a general or admiral was relieved for cause-NEVER

    It’s only O-5 and O-6’s that get fired because once you put a star on your uniform you are a “made” man i.e. untouchable. Just like the mob-everyone below you takes the fall.

    • SJE

      Getting interviewed in Rolling Stone talking smack about the VP will get you canned.

      • blight_

        Wasn’t that Stanley McChrystal pulling a MacArthur?

        But beyond insulting civilians in high government, it is kind of hard to get removed…

    • Amicus Curiae

      Big, there are many examples of flag rank relief in disgrace. Maybe this shoudn’t be one of them.

  • duuude
  • citanon

    According to Aviation Week, at the recent hearing, NASA engineers testified that the F-22 problems and Raptor cough was actually traced to TOO MUCH oxygen being supplied at lower altitudes. This forced nitrogen from the lungs and lead to collapse of avioli, leading to subsequent physiological problems that resembled hypoxia. At, higher altitudes, it was yet a different set of problems related to acceleration, and higher G loading.
    http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/arti

    • Amicus Curiae

      You have it a little garbled, but at least you’re on the right track.

  • OMEGATALON

    The Pentagon’s biggest problem with the F-22 is their decision to buy just 187 jets as not enough money has been spent to develop the program like with jets in the past and the limited number of jets has caused the Pentagon to not having thoroughly tested the aircraft.

  • Ln

    Sounds like the typical downsizing budget cutting scenario. And in the long run how much more has this Jon not done right cost us?

  • Dave

    Did any of you read the final report? It wasn’t the aircraft! It was the anti-G garment system. The BRAG valve was malfunctioning/set wrong such that the torso garment was not relieving pressure which prevented thorough lung ventilation. LM did not invent the vest, infact that was probably something that the ALSS folks provided.

    Oh and, there is no back up oxygen system per se on most tactical jets beyond the emergency O2 system in the ejection system. When the primary OBOGs or LOX systems fail, the EPs tell you to switch to emergency O2 (which is as I mentioned earlier is in the seat); dive for the deck and switch on emergency ECS scoop.

  • Dick Naylor

    America cannot afford the ongoing failure of the F-35 OR the F-22 program managers–civilian and military NOR either groups senior management. It would appear the only thing consistently driving these programs is greed and icompetence.
    The only results, so far, is failure. ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”—kill both programs and eliminate the growing cost of failure. The American taxpayer has had enough.

  • TJRedneck

    The biggest mistake they made was ending production. Fix that damm thing, upgrade them, and build more.

  • duuude

    One word: Drones.
    They don’t need oxygen. They can as much g-force as the airframe allows. If they get shot down, open another crate!

    F-22 costs $200mil, carries 16 missiles max internal and external. What’s to stop a hostile nation with decent technological and manufacturing capabilities from sending up 18-19 drones at $10mil a copy, armed with AAMs, for every single F-22?