Air Force lifts F-22 flight restrictions

The Air Force lifted flying restrictions on many F-22 fighter jets after upgrading their oxygen system and life-support equipment, the service said in a statement.

The move comes days after the U.S. military flew a pair of the aircraft to South Korea amid escalating tensions with the North, whose young leader Kim Jong Un has declared a state of war on the peninsula and readied missiles for a possible attack.

The timing of the Air Force’s April 4 statement “is strictly coincidental” and unrelated to the joint military exercises the U.S. is conducting with South Korea, said Kelly Sanders, a spokeswoman for Air Combat Command. The command is based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, and oversees the F-22.

The military’s most advanced fighter jet is made by Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Maryland, and its oxygen system is made by Honeywell International Inc., based in Morristown, New Jersey. It was the Defense Department’s most expensive acquisition program until Congress in 2009 voted to stop further production. The Pentagon spent about $67 billion buying almost 200 of the aircraft.

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last year restricted flights of the F-22 after two Air National Guard pilots appeared on the CBS news program, “60 Minutes,” to say didn’t feel safe flying the plane. They complained of dizziness, disorientation, even something called “The Raptor Cough,” after the aircraft’s name.

The complaints weren’t new to the military. The Air Force temporarily grounded the planes in 2011 after more than a dozen pilots reported similar symptoms of oxygen deprivation, a condition known as hypoxia. It did the same in 2010 after pilot Jeff Haney died in a crash in the Alaskan wilderness. (The Pentagon’s own inspector general criticized the Air Force’s accident investigation.)

The service, which initially struggled to identify the cause of the problem, last year concluded that a lack of oxygen — not the quality of it — was causing the symptoms, due primarily to a faulty valve on the pilots’ life-support vest.

The Air Force fielded new vest pieces  in January and expects to finish installing automatic back-up oxygen systems on the rest of aircraft in the fleet by July 2014, according to the statement. Planes that have already received the upgrades are no longer restricted to flying at certain altitudes and within 30 minutes of an airfield, it said. Crews in Alaska have resumed missions, it said.

“Feedback from the field shows the F-22 community, including pilots, maintainers and family members, are confident in the safety of the F-22,” Sanders said in an e-mail.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Woody

    Well its about time….now its time to go teach that “Gangham” looking North Korean idiot leader who he’s messing with, he just might do something or he will “lose face”….but hopefully China is telling him to chill out….I am confident that even if that idiot tries something, he will be sorry….well, his people will be, he’ll be cowering in some underground bunker somewhere…

    • Musson

      With the timing of the announcement – I believe the USAF realsed them so they could participate in any upcoming NORK confrontation.

    • steve

      Lifting all the safety resrictions on the F-22’s oxcygen system malfunctions…JUST IN TIME FOR THEIR DEPLOYMENT TO S. KOREA IS A JOKE….WHEN IT NEVER WAS STATED THE PROBLEMS HAD BEEN PROPERLY CORRECTED, AND PROVEN TO BE 100% ACCURATE, FOR THE PILOT’S SAFETY AND LIFE!
      Smells like PC and PR fast at work??? By the way Woody, don’t sell the N.Koreans short, we did that when I was there once before…We lost a lot of good people there for that mistake….

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    I doubt that this was a coincidence. I mean, come on. A few days after a demonstration of the F-22, the F-22 is allowed to “officially” fly. But really, that is just nitpicking. The plane is ready to blast the heck out of the NK’s air force. Actually, the F-15 could serve that role just as well. Either way, great to see the -22 is “flying” again.

    • Josh

      Obviously it isn’t a coincidence. The US is preparing for a war with North Korea. It’s highly unlikely it will happen, but the last thing we want to happen is that North Korea actually starts a war and kicks our ass for the first few days because we didn’t take them seriously when they threatened us several times.

    • Shawn

      F-15’s are a proven aircraft & still rule the skies !!! Can you say 2 engines ? F-15 Eagle Keeper

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Finally. A F-15 fan. I felt so alone….

      • Restore Palestine

        I don’t remember the F-15 ever winning a match against the Russian or Chinese flankers. It has lost a bunch of combat exercises to Flankers flown by Russia pilots, but not a freaking single win. That’s called “rule the skies” in your book?

        Where did you get your PhD in Clown Science?

  • Anonymous

    Strange, I don’t believe them because they don’t have the health and safety of the pilots as a priority as they have proven throughout the entire F-22 ordeal.

    • Big-Dean

      lost the faith I see ;-P

    • Josh

      Just leave.

      • Restore Palestine

        Just die.

    • Matt

      I agree.

  • Lance

    Just wait for another incident on a F-22 and the restrictions are back. In order for the USAF to fix this they need a major overhaul of life support systems in the Raptor, not a band aid on a bullet wound approach.

    • VetsTeam

      I Doubt, every tech has strong and weak points if they find any weakness in the system, they will fix it again and again and improve it with latest technology.

      Eagles come back to the sky again.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Hmph, yes F-15.

    • Nick

      they need the planes out there now! not after 2014 sometime, when NK’s northern ,uh,ally? has a fighter that can smush an F-15 without breathing hard! We need our best frontline fighters out there !

  • marc27

    great lets send 20 to south korea and see if the north is still willing to show force.

  • Dfens

    So if the F-22 is “operational” again, does this mean its pilots have gone back to being American heroes, or are they still “too stupid to fly the airplane”? It is so hard to keep up with the official Air Force position on this.

  • Ron

    It’s “GO AHEAD MAKE MY DAY ” time!!!

  • oblatt1

    The surest sign there is no chance of war is to have the F-22 ‘Iron Chicken’ in theater.

  • Tony C.

    The F-22A is where and how it was intended to be deployed in theater, not a small brush war like Libya. This is what the F-22A was designed to do and it will be a tremendous asset if war breaks out.

  • Aimhigh

    I hope they have corrected the problems for the sake of the pilots and so we don’t lose one near Chinese waters while flying patrols off Korea

  • Vitsing

    Cancel the F-35 Program and restart the F-22 production line. In the end it will save my tax dollars! F-22s are desired by many of our Allies and Allied support for the F-35 are waning. Even our own Navy is questing the F-35 viability.

    Is there a Stealthy A/F-18 in the making?

    • Achilles

      If we cancel the F-35 Program we could delay being able to use the vertical takeoff and landing for maybe a year or two. The F-22 is one of the most expensive jets to make. Your tax dollars would go to that instead of Obama’s golf trips with Tiger Woods.

      • blight_

        Both programs are expensive, and the -22 got cut off during mass production to reduce the bleeding: which simultaneously kills your return on investment.

        Then again, I suspect LM hoped that the pain of killing programs by going after buy orders instead of R&D would serve as a deterrent, because rational players don’t hurt their ROI after their sunken costs. But the government isn’t a rational player.

        • Achilles

          I would rather our tax payer dollars go to military stuff instead of Obama playing golf

    • Shawn

      Can you say 2 engines are better than 1 ? f-15 Eagle Keeper

  • JJ Jones

    Any idea how many police we could hire, homeless shelters we could build, jobs we could create, or how much we could increase teacher salaries and after school program funding with the cost of just one of these damn things?
    I spent 24 years in the Air Force. Contractors have fleeced the goverment and taxpayers to death on a very expensive “not quite finished” project. It takes a lot of time an effort to get one of these things off the ground. Guess the Air Force wanted to prove pigs can fly.
    The F-22….we spent so much money, we won’t admit we were wrong.

    • Jeff Scism

      With the F-35 the military tried to please the budget people and put all of the design functions on a single hope, the F-35. They made it too complex, and too diverse. Instead of a cheaper product that can kick ass at a distance, they wanted a Swiss rmy knife, which although it has all these LITTLE gimmicks, does NOTHING well.

      Keep it simple, Keep it efficient.

      • Restore Palestine

        Comparing the F-35 to the Swiss Army Knife is too much of a compliment to the F-35.

        The Swiss Army Knife is a well-thought-out, well-designed, sturdy and handy compact utility. The F-35 is an ill-conceived, poorly-designed, sissy-delicate and less-than-useless air polluter.

  • mahatchma

    Just in time for being grounded due to Sequester!

  • Achilles

    Ha! The Sequester! There is supposed to be something like it that is going to knock out like thirty airports in the continental US and one of them my dad used to be the manager of the tower.

  • Jeff Scism

    I was in the USAF Aircrew Life Support field, but am 20 years out of date, I got out in 1990. I am still in touch with many still in the field, and know that the field level workers were taking the problems seriously, but the Civilians in charge of the Dept Of Defense ignored the reports, telling the pilots to “Stop crying” and go fly.

    I don’t blame any pilot who refuses to fly unsafe equipment.

  • BILLY VINCENT

    THE F-22 AND F-35 ARE BOTH AWESOME AIRCRAFT! KEEP BOTH BY GETTING RID OF SOME OF GOVT.!

  • balkdjfh

    Thats the thing, is we are so much in debt that we cant keep both.

  • Jeff Scism

    The first responsibility of Government is to Obey the Constitution, and OURS says if it isn’t specifically empowered for the Government to do something, that thing is empowered to the States and the people to do. So if you want to CUT the debt, simply INSIST that the Government do only what is lawful. Its LONG past time to stop the government from overstepping its authority, and remind them that they work for US.

    The second responsibility is to Protect and defend the Constitution, and yes, that means against all enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC. Our forefathers had foreseen that one of the greatest challenges would be to protect us from each other.

    Power feeds corruption and corruption spreads like wildfire unless to take immediate steps to control it.

    If our representatives are not working to serve constitutionally, then they are the Problem. They may have had years of entrenchment and “gerrymandering” to keep them there, but NEW PEOPLE in quantity are what we need.

    There are no term limits for the entire Congress, but we in each state can push for them. It needs to be an organized, cohesive demand that term limits be applied, and enforced.

    To reduce the debt you need to balance exports and imports. Right now its cash out and junk imports-in.

  • It’s nearly impossible to find well-informed people in this particular topic, however, you seem like
    you know what you’re talking about! Thanks