The Air Force Times reported on an interesting development this week on July 27. According to the AF Times, the entire fleet of F-22 Raptors in the Air Force inventory has not flown since May 3, 2011—the result of problems with the aircraft’s life support systems.
Pilots flying the airplane, based at seven locations, reported problems with aircraft flying out of six of those air bases. Evidently, 14 pilots said they suffered some symptoms similar hypoxia and other, more serious, medical problems.
The characteristics not similar to hypoxia were the chemical toxins found in the blood of the pilots who described the incidents after their flights. The pilots said they suffered from various problems ranging from problems with cognition to more common hypoxic symptoms. There was a report of one pilot not remembering how to set frequencies in the radio and another hit trees on an approach to landing. Additionally, the pilot who hit the trees could not recall the incident.
The F-22 supplies the pilot with oxygen through the On-Board Oxygen Generation System, or O-BOGS. Unlike older systems, the O-BOGS is not limited to a set amount of oxygen. For example, older military O2 systems depended on liquid oxygen (LOX) to keep the pilot supplied with the appropriate levels of oxygen. The problem with the older system is that LOX is volatile and dangerous. You can identify a LOX bottle by the green color and rotund structure a little larger than the size of a basketball.
The advantage to LOX bottles is that it is a fully contained system. If there is a contaminant in a pilot’s oxygen, it is the result of something that happened at the LOX farm, not with the aircraft.
With the Raptor’s O-BOGS, that could be a different matter. Of the pilots involved in the incidents, post-flight investigation revealed a multitude of chemicals and other toxins in their bodies. All of which points to a system concern with the O-BOGS.
The interesting thing about the O-BOGS problem regards Captain Jeff Haney, the Raptor pilot of the 525th Fighter Squadron who went down near Anchorage, AK. The investigation into his crash is on going, but personnel reported that before the crash, Haney “sounded drunk” over the radios.
What most Americans need to remember about the F-22 Raptor is that it is the finest airplane ever developed in the free world. It is a complex machine; like all combat machines before it, the Raptor will age through growing pains as the Air Force refines it for its mission. The loss of a certain number of airplanes and pilots is natural in the development of these aircraft.
While it is a most terrible loss, we should give thanks for the capable Americans like Captain Haney.
©2011 J. Clark
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