Here’s another chapter of the F-22 oxygen problems saga.
According to their attorney, Frederick M. Morgan Jr, who talked to The Daily press on May 9, the two F-22 pilots who were among those pilot requesting not to fly the Raptor because of the oxygen-deprivation problems with the fifth generation stealth fighter, would be ready to resume flying, right now.
Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Josh Wilson, belonging to the 192 Fighter Wing of the Virginia Air National Guard, experienced hypoxia symptoms while flying the U.S. top fighter plane. They aired their concerns as “military whistleblowers” (hence being protected from punishment under the U.S. Federal Law), on CBS 60 Minutes on May 6, when they said they were “uncomfortable” flying the U.S. stealthy fighter.
As explained by their attorney, the two fighter jocks feel more comfortable about flying the Raptor now, since the Air Force has removed the charcoal filter installed to detect contaminants in the air supplied to the pilots; a filter that gave them the feeling it was harder to breath.
In the seven months since the grounding on the F-22 fleet was lifted, there have been 11 more oxygen-deprivation incidents in 7,000 sorties.
In order to defend the F-22 Raptor’s reputation (and, implicitly, the company’s image), Lockheed Martin has started a sort of promotional campaign on social networks as the two “whistleblowers” appeared on national TV.
As a consequence of the global financial crisis, the US Air Command Command has decided to scale back from the six demonstration teams (A-10 East & West, F-16 East & West, F-15E and F-22) to one single-ship demo team.
For 2012, the Air Force’s primary force provider will sponsor only the F-22 demo team that is expected to perform (alongside the Thunderbirds, that are set to complete a full season next year) at up to 20 air shows.
By reducing the number of single-ship demonstration teams will allow the ACC to reallocate some 900 sorties to the air wings, that will be able to use them for combat readiness training providing an increase in more than 25 combat-ready fighter pilots.
According to the official statement:
“The opportunity to showcase our aircrew at air shows around the country is important – and we’re confident our Thunderbirds, F-22 demonstration team and Heritage Flight Foundation will continue highlighting the extraordinary work of all our Airmen.”
Schwartz said that the OBOGS (onboard oxygen generating system) has been ruled out as a contributing factor to the November 2010 crash of an F-22 which caused the death of a pilot and that a report next week is expected to shed some light on the actual cause of the problem.
According to a Defense News story published on Aug. 31, the Air Force investigators have not been able to pinpoint the problem but they think that the risk can be mitigated enough to lift the stand down while they continue to look for what can be done to solve the problem.
Noteworthy, the Defense News article says that the USAF is under pressure to fly again the jet to stop the wave of criticism caused by the grounding, “which has prevented the planes, among other things, from participating in the NATO campaign against Libyan government forces.”
Even if I’m not sure that the Raptors would have been deployed to take part in Unified Protector if they had not been grounded, surely, bad press is urging the planes back to the air. Let’s hope this doesn’t put any pilot’s life at risk and proper limitations to the operating procedures and flight envelope will be applied (if needed) until the problem is solved. Hopefully, the procedures won’t include a message like: “….and if you feel faint, please take note of the flight parameters we need for the crash investigation, before you eject….”
And here’s the SF-260EA of the Italian Air Force, a light aircraft used for initial pilot training:
What do they have in common? Both have had problem with carbon monoxide.
The stealthy F-22 Raptor, the US Air Force most advanced fighter, was grounded (in what is the longest full fleet grouding of recent aviation history) due to carbon monoxide entering the cockpit via the aircraft’s oxygen system, the same type of problem affecting the SF-260EA, the latest version of the famous Italian trainer.
The US fighter was grounded on May 3, 2011, after 14 incidents in which pilots suffered hypoxia-like symptoms. Hypoxia is a condition of inadequate oxygen supply that can have fatal consequences.
Hypoxia can be caused when carbon monoxide generated by the engines enters the cockpit because of the placement of the aircraft air intakes or of particular operating procedures, like those used at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, where the majority of the incidents have occurred, and where the aircraft perform the start up procedure of the engine inside the shelters, because of the cold temperatures. Exhaust gases then could be sucked back by into the engines and enter the On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS).
While the problem affecting the F-22 is still under evaluation, the SF-260EA has been fixed, even if the type was never interested by a fleet-wide stand down.
The carbon monoxide into the cockpit was one of the minor issues on the “260”. Amount was limited, leakage sporadic, and pilots got used to it quite fast.
In June 2009, I flew the SF-260 during an orientation flight and experienced hypoxia symptoms caused by exhaust gases entering the cockpit. Headache, fatigue and nausea leading almost to loss of consciousness. “That’s normal” explained the Instructor Pilot who flew with me “local instructors and student pilots are used to the gases but people who don’t fly too often with this type of aircraft, can experience this kind of symptoms, especially when outside temperature is extremely hot and we have to use the onboard air conditioning system to make the cockpit more comfortable”.
Even if sucked carbon monoxide into the SF-260 cockpit didn’t cause any serious aviation safety issue on the fleet, the problem has been fixed. In the meanwhile, some 160 F-22 Raptors remain grounded indefinitely and their pilots, despite ongoing simulator training, are quickly losing their currencies.
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