If you haven't seen these video reports by CBS on the F-22 Raptor story, they are worth the time to watch. When they first aired on CBS on Sunday evening, I'm sure I missed the first third of what these two officers were saying because my thoughts wandered off wondering what these two will do now that they've cratered their careers. When I was in the military a million years ago, the only way around the chain of command was through the Chaplain's office and you had better be damn careful what you said there, too.
Maybe the modern military is different. But Captain Josh Wilson and Major Jeremy Gordon stepped right out there in deciding to go on 60 Minutes, without official blessing. You get the feeling they believe the F-22's problems are so serious that neither the public nor the body politic understands them. (Evidently, the Air Force doesn't either.) So today, the second day story was that the Senate will hold hearings on the F-22 and the Air Force says Wilson and Gordon won't be punished. Right. But I suspect they've both got a blunt note in their personnel files that will keep them off the promotions lists.
As I was watching these reports, it occurred to me how ludicrous it is that neither Lockheed Martin nor the Air Force has identified a cause of the Raptor's disabling pilots, much less a solution. Yet the command structure continues to fly the airplane with some unknown risk to the pilots. Wilson told CBS his encounter with the F-22's toxic oxygen system put him in a hyperbaric chamber and he's not the only one. How can the Air Force consider this acceptable airworthiness for an airplane used only in training?
At one point, at a news briefing, an officer brandished a cheap pulse oximeterthe same kind we use in our crappy GA airplanesas one solution to the F-22's ills. (At least ours can be hardwired into the panel for automatic monitoring.)
I'll skip past discussing whether the F-22 is even worth having. (If you want to discuss its non-mission, be my guest.) For me, as a taxpayer, it's all about the money. Bar none, the F-22 is the most expensive fighter ever produced. The flyaway cost of the F-22 is variously given between $170 and $350 million each, depending on how you crunch the numbers. (And the numbers are $64.5 billion total program cost, with about 184 airplanes built. You can do the math.)
Let me put that in context. It's eight times more expensive than the F-117 Nighthawk, 21 times more expensive than an F-16 and 12 times more expensive than the F-15. Just for fun, adjusted for inflation, you could have bought 537 P-51 Mustangs for the price of a single F-22 or nearly 50 B-29s.
But enough of that.
It's a hugely expensive airplane with tremendous capability, but even at that cost, the F-22 pilotsand there are only about 200 of themevidently have little confidence that it will keep them alive in routine flight, never mind combat. Really, we ought to do better than this as a country and the Air Force should stop risking pilots to cover its butt on an airplane that ought not to have this problem. Shouldn't they be going after Lockheed for non-performance on the contract?
As for Wilson and Gordon, I offer a tip of the garrison cap. I like to think I'd have the stones to do what they did, but I know I don't.