- Military has almost 190 of the craft, classed as the most advanced at the country’s disposal
- Pilots report dizziness and blackouts while flying
- Airforce general insists there is no problem and that the fighter strikes fear into hearts’ of America’s enemies
By Chris Hanlon
PUBLISHED: 07:58 EST, 1 May 2012 | UPDATED: 10:31 EST, 1 May 2012
US fighter pilots have asked not to fly the military’s 190 F-22 Raptors because of oxygen problems with the $143million (£88m) stealth fighter, an Air Force leader has revealed.
Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, told reporters that a ‘very small’ number of pilots have asked not to fly the fifth-generation fighter jets or to be reassigned.
‘Obviously it’s a very sensitive thing because we are trying to ensure that the community fully understands all that we’re doing to try to get to a solution,’ Hostage said.
THE REAL TOP GUN
Top speed: Above mach 2 with afterburners: greater than 1,317mph (2,120km/h).
Kill ratio: F-22 pilots demonstrated that its higher cruise altitude has given it a major combat advantage over US 4th/4.5th generation fighters and have an unblemished kill ratio against other US fighters in training maneuvers.
Problems: The oxygen system was suspected as being behind a crash in which an F-22 pilot was killed in November 2010.
Overview: The F-22 Raptor is primarily an air-superiority fighter but is also capable of ground attack and electronic warfare, and signals intelligence roles.
Despite a costly development period, the United States Air Force considers the F-22 the key component of US air power, and claims that the aircraft is unmatched by any known or projected fighter.
However its high cost, lack of clear air-to-air combat missions because of delays in the Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighter programs resulted in calls to end production. The final F-22 of 187 came off the assembly line on 13 December 2011 during a ceremony at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
He would not provide exact figures on the number of pilots who have asked not to fly the jets and said each pilot’s request would be handled individually.
Air Force officials insist the airplane is safe to fly – Hostage noted that he’ll fly soon because he won’t ask a pilot to do something that he will not.
‘I’m going to check out and fly the airplane so I can understand exactly what it is they’re dealing with.
‘The day we figure out what the problem is I will stop flying (the plane) because we don’t have enough sorties for all of our combat aviators to get as much training as they need,’ he said.
The nation’s F-22 fighter jets were grounded for four months last year after pilots complained of experiencing a lack of oxygen that can cause dizziness and blackouts.
Air Force officials said they have taken steps against the problem, but still haven’t pinpointed what’s causing the hypoxia – when the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen.
An Air Force panel is meeting weekly to investigate the problem and has enlisted the help of NASA and the Navy to learn more about what happens to the body under extreme conditions.
Hostage spoke during a media day event at the base, highlighting the nation’s most advanced fighter plane.
After being introduced in 2005, the last of nearly 190 jets are scheduled to be delivered to the Air Force this week.
At a price tag of $143 million each, the Raptor has come under some criticism for not being used in place of older and less-sophisticated jets in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Hostage said the plane is critical to maintaining the nation’s air superiority in the future and that he wishes he had more of the jets at his disposal.
On Monday, Iran’s defense minister said that reports of the stealth fighter jet being deployed to the United Arab Emirates would damage regional security, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
Without saying which country in the region the F-22s were deployed to – or which base or bases they were deployed from – Hostage said there’s a reason other nations take note of the plane’s movements.
‘People pay attention to where this airplane goes and what it does because, regardless of the furore in our press and public about the suitability or the safety of the airplane, they’re very worried about its capability.’ he said.
The planes are stationed at five other bases besides Virginia: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; and Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.