U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) today released new information from the U.S. Air Force (USAF) that reveals significantly higher rates of oxygen-deprivation incidents reported by F-22 Raptor pilots than previously disclosed, and more widespread concerns about the impact and use of a charcoal breathing filter recently ordered removed from the aircraft. The information is contained in the USAF responses to a detailed set of questions submitted by Sen. Warner and Rep. Kinzinger on May 10.
The inquiries followed meetings with Virginia Air National Guard Capt. Joshua Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon, the two F-22 "whistleblowers" who appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" in early May to disclose their concerns about breathing issues and blackouts experienced by some F-22 Raptor pilots. Both Capt. Wilson and Maj. Gordon are assigned to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. Since their appearance on "60 Minutes," approximately 10 additional pilots and flight surgeons have contacted Senator Warner's office with specific and similar concerns about hypoxia and hypoxia-related incidents involving the F-22. In late May, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta instructed USAF to restrict F-22 flight activities while stepping-up efforts to determine potential causes of the F-22 hypoxiaincidents.
According to a written response from USAF and email responses that followed:
·Through May 31, 2012, the Air Force reported 26.43 hypoxia or hypoxia-like incidents among F-22 pilots per 100,000 flight hours -- a rate that is at least 10 times higher than any other USAF aircraft. As recently as news coverage this week, the USAF continued to maintain that F-22 hypoxia rates "remain relatively low:"
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·An early 2011 USAF aircrew survey found that "a majority of F-22 pilots surveyed did not feel confident" with the F-22 oxygen system, and USAF ordered the installation of C2A1 charcoal filters before returning the F-22 to full operations in September 2011. However, the use of these filters triggered even more concerns about so-called "Raptor cough" experienced by many pilots. Tests performed by The Boeing Corp. this spring found that the C2A1 filter "negatively impact[ed] the breathing system" for F-22 pilots, and increased breathing resistance outside of acceptable standards. Boeing formally recommended discontinuing use of the filters on April 2nd -- a recommendation that ultimately was adopted by the Air Force.
·In their May 10th letter, the Senator and Congressman recommended that USAF tap the expertise of the U.S. Navy, NASA and others to help identify and correct these recurring F-22 issues. Wednesday's USAF disclosure of a potential problem with F-22 pilot survival gear -- primarily the upper pressure vest -- was the result of this collaboration with the U.S. Navy dive unit at Panama City, FL.
·Sen. Warner and Rep. Kinzinger also repeated their call today for the USAF and the Virginia Air National Guard to rescind reprimands and other disciplinary proceedingsinitiated against Capt. Wilson and Maj. Gordon after they stepped forward under The Military Whistleblower Protection Act.
"I am troubled that two brave pilots had to risk their careers and two relatively new members of Congress had to apply pressure to force the Air Force to move off-the-dime on this," Sen. Warner said. "The safety of these pilots and the communities over which they fly should be everyone's paramount concern. The F-22 program has cost $80 billion so far, but the most expensive fighter jet in the world is useless if we can't ensure the safety of the pilots who fly it."
"From the beginning, my top priority has been to ensure the safety of my fellow military pilots and protect their wings," said Rep. Kinzinger. "This information confirms that the F-22 program is not running at 100 percent and that the oxygen-deprivation incident rates are much higher than we were initially told. As the nation with the strongest military and the brightest minds in the world, we must make certain that we provide our men and women in uniform with the best equipment possible. Working with Senator Warner, we will continue to monitor the improvements made to this program closely and see to it that the pilots who courageously came forward with their concerns are protected."