Air Force: Pilot's Failure Was Fatal

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The Air Force is blaming a veteran pilot for the crash of his F-22 fighter, saying he lost control of the airplane while preoccupied with fixing the oxygen system. Capt. Jeffey Haney had his mobility and vision restricted while flying an F-22 at 38,000 feet and 1,039 KTAS, at night, and then the jet cut off his oxygen supply. According to the accident report released last week, Captain Jeffrey Haney became distracted when his oxygen system stopped delivering oxygen. After initiating a descent, he allowed his F-22 to roll past inverted, unchecked. The fighter's attitude resulted in a vertical speed of -57,800 feet per minute. Haney failed to recognize that, according to the report, and also did not activate the emergency oxygen system. Haney attempted recovery from the resultant supersonic dive with a 7.4-G pull, three seconds before impact. Conditions in the cockpit revealed by the report may contribute some telling details.

According to the Air Force accident report (PDF), Haney "was recognized throughout his career for exceptional performance." On the accident flight, he was outfitted for cold weather (wore bulky clothing) and night operations (wore night vision goggles). That personal equipment would have "reduced mobility in the cockpit" and interfered with his "ability to look from side to side and down at the consoles" without bracing himself "on various areas in the cockpit." The applicable checklist for failure of the oxygen system includes activation of an emergency oxygen system. That system is actuated via a pull ring that requires 40 pounds of force to actuate and is mounted low and aft to the side of the pilot's ejection seat. The pilot's gear would have made reaching that ring difficult and failure of the oxygen system would have caused "severe restrictive breathing" at the same time. The accident report found that Haney had applied inadvertent control inputs that he failed to recognize. He remained conscious throughout the event and recognized the jet's condition prior to impact. The $147,672,000 F-22 Raptor hit the ground left-wing low, with a 48-degree nose down attitude. It was flying at 1.17 Mach at the time.

The F-22 Raptor's systems will cut off oxygen to the pilot under specific conditions. The accident aircraft was affected by one of those conditions, but the Air Force failed to determine what, specifically, caused that initial condition. The last Raptor rolled off the production line in mid-December 2011. Unit cost for the jet (a per-copy figure that includes development and production costs) has been estimated near $377 million.