It was only a month ago that the Air Force let its F-22 warplanes — the most costly fighters in world history — back into the skies after more than four months confined to the tarmac.
As we noted September 21:
The Air Force has decided to let its fleet of F-22 fighters back into the air beginning Wednesday without fixing the problem that led to their grounding in the first place. Concerns that Raptor pilots were passing out due to a lack of oxygen — there’s another reason for drones — led to the fleet-wide grounding May 3.
Well, as the kids say: It’s baaaaack. F-22 bases in Virginia and Alaska have grounded their $350 million F-22s in recent days, due to the same problem.
The latest grounding happened after a pilot aboard an F-22 flying out of Langley Air Force Base, Va., experienced symptoms common to a lack of oxygen. The F-22 unit at Elmendorf Air Force Base followed suit (Elmendorf was home to Capt. Jeff Haney, an F-22 pilot who died last November in a crash some believe was linked to a lack of oxygen).
The day before the Langley hypoxia scare, President Obama visited the base and spoke inside the 94th Fighter Squadron’s hanger. “We’ve got the 1st Fighter Wing, with our amazing F-22 Raptors,” he told a crowd of cheering airmen last Wednesday. “I want to ride in one of those someday.” Well, not just yet, Mr. President.
After the earlier grounding, Air Force engineers believed the plane’s oxygen-generating system was pumping more than oxygen into pilots’ lungs, but couldn’t prove it. So they added another filter to the system, which doesn’t seem to have worked. The two groundings affect about half of the 170-plane F-22 fleet; whether the service issues another fleet-wide grounding order is up in the air.
“Part of our protocol is to allow units to pause operations whenever they need to analyze information collected from flight operations to ensure safety,” the Air Force said in a statement following the latest grounding. Wonder if the pause will last another four months?
More importantly: imagine how it feels to be an F-22 pilot today, flying a war machine apparently unable to guarantee you sufficient oxygen to stay alive.