The F-22 Debacle

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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 oximeter—the same kind we use in our crappy GA airplanes—as 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 pilots—and there are only about 200 of them—evidently 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.

Comments (72)

How difficult can it be to fix an 02 system? Either an O2 generator or a tank or two, some tubing, a regulator and a mask. The O2 generator might be some super new technology -- if so...lose it until they fix it. The hard tubing can't be much of an issue. Soft tubing: could be something is crushing it under certain circumstances -- find can't be that hard. Regulator...they've been around for years unless there is some new fangled thing...go back to the old-fashioned one for now. The mask is probably the same mask used in other fighter aircraft, right?

Bottom line is there can't be much to the pilot's breathing system. I also doubt that is represents some great combat advantage for the airplane -- so replace it with a tried and true system. If no more pilots complain about blacking out or other problems, you've found the problem and fixed it and have the information needed to fix the new system.

Posted by: Kingsley Hill | May 9, 2012 9:20 PM    Report this comment

Kingsley, from a mechanical/electrical/system view you could be correct. However, I suspect (since almost everything on the aircraft is secret I don't know for sure) the oxygen system is controlled by the on-board computer which could have a bad 'line of code' giving the oxygen system 'bad' information. the only problem is there are literally thousands of lines of computer code that need to be checked and cross-checked to find the 'problem'.

As to why the 'problem' hasn't already been solved, rather than a simple engineering problem it could be a much more complicated political problem - and we all know how difficult these are to fix.

Posted by: Richard Norris | May 10, 2012 6:08 AM    Report this comment

All I know is that these two pilots are looking out for their brothers, and the brass isn't. Simple as that. That is a tragedy. Rather than take the heat where it belongs, at the top, these guys were lead to risk their careers over this. Shame, shame, on the Air Force. No one should have to have hearings on this, no dog and pony show. Lockheed, you have a problem here, fix it, and fix it now. No more billing the U.S. taxpayer on this, either. You sold us a system with severe problems, you fix it on your dime. (Like that will ever happen)...but that's how it should happen. Those two officers? Commendations.

Posted by: Gary Smrtic | May 10, 2012 7:12 AM    Report this comment

What a bunch of wusses. P-80's, SR-71's, F-117's all were advanced and all were a bit dangerous to fly. All of a sudden pilots are afraid of advanced systems with risks? MOVE OVER, I'd love to fly an F-22.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 10, 2012 8:31 AM    Report this comment

The same O2 system exists on the Navy's F/A-18 and has given them troubles as well. But you never hear about their hypoxia/health issues and mishaps and I wonder why that is? The OBOGS needs a serious retrofit!

Posted by: Jeff Lovejoy | May 10, 2012 8:33 AM    Report this comment

Mark, I'm guessing you're jesting here? That paradigm is exactly why we now have safety management systems, CRM, ASRS, etc. Accident history is abundant with instances of known/suspected problems.

Posted by: Shannon Forrest | May 10, 2012 8:46 AM    Report this comment

Beware the Military Industrial Complex ! Dwight Eisenhower 1961

Posted by: Tom Baum | May 10, 2012 8:50 AM    Report this comment

Mark you miss the point. Yes all those aircraft were advanced for their time, but all had O2 systems which worked. This OBOGS is different in the way it produces oxygen, and the concern is either it's inefficient at generating the proper amount, or that other chemicals or gasses are being introduced into the pilot's supply. Pilots cannot fly incapacitated because they can't properly process things in the brain. This includes motor coordination and control of their aircraft which in turn creates a $350 million lawn dart.

Posted by: Jeff Lovejoy | May 10, 2012 8:51 AM    Report this comment

It's not just military pilots "afraid of advanced systems with risk". Familiar with the software runaway trim problem on the fly by wire Falcon 7X? No manual trim, no circuit breaker. How about the same aircraft type getting a cargo fire warning 45 minutes out of Hawaii headed back to the states. Software glitch. I speak to high time, high caliber pilots weekly about being "afraid" of their aircraft. These pilots are far from "wusses".

Posted by: Shannon Forrest | May 10, 2012 8:53 AM    Report this comment

Good call Shannon!

Posted by: Jeff Lovejoy | May 10, 2012 8:55 AM    Report this comment

It's absurd to call these guys--both combat veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq--wussies. The joke ain't even funny. When any systems exhibit known hazards that ought to be fixable, you fix them. You don't send your guys out in known defective equipment, especially when it costs at much as these airplanes do.

As for the technical aspects, the F-22 is equipped with a new OBOGs provided by Honeywell. The previous generation used in the F-16, F-15, A-10 and T-6 were made by Cobham.

I can see how when a new system is fielded, there could be problems. But I can't see how something as serious as this isn't resolved after two years of trying.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 10, 2012 9:11 AM    Report this comment

The comment by Mark ("wusses") is so ludicrous and off base, it makes me suspect that he has very little, if any, experience in high performance aircraft. At best it is most un-professional.

The F-22 has an on going serious problem and, as one writer suggested, the fix is probably hung up somewhere in the vast political system.

Posted by: BOB BREWER | May 10, 2012 9:52 AM    Report this comment

Total disregard for their oath of loyalty and chain of command. Both should be discharged with a GD,less than honorable, .. Don't need whistle Blowers in the military. Have enough in the system.. Many new aircraft have problems, sometimes takes years to correct and upgrade. We didn't go crying to the press, or congress. shows our new breed of committment.?? Either work within the system or GET OUT..

Posted by: Peter Karalus | May 10, 2012 10:26 AM    Report this comment

My understanding is the F-22 and F-35 on-board oxygen generators are essentially the same (built by Honeywell). Although the F-35 is still in test phase a lot of hours are being flown and I have not heard of any problems.

From what I gather the investigators are totally frustrated by the fact that they are dealing with a broad range of anecdotal incidents which they cannot tie together with a common thread (other than the fact they cannot be duplicated in testing).

One hesitates to consider the possibility that the dreaded term “group hysteria” could infect pilots who are popularly viewed as quasi-Supermen, but when nothing can be found despite the best efforts of some very smart people, you start reaching that point where what remains, however unlikely, must be considered.

Posted by: John Wilson | May 10, 2012 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Peter: Ah, I see, you mean be brave and die for your peace time!

Posted by: Adam Hunt | May 10, 2012 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Peter K.: What do you have against whistle blowers? These are people who are willing to put their careers on the line to bring to light an issue that has been passed over by everyone else with the power to do something about it. There's a reason there are laws in place to protect whistle blowers.

Also, I agree with some other posters: if you can't breath, then what's the point? It'd be one thing if the issue at hand was something the pilots could work around, but you can't work around not breathing due to lack of oxygen.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | May 10, 2012 10:54 AM    Report this comment

No whistle blowers? I shudder to think.

I'm old enough to recall when the M-16 was first fielded with a non-chromed chamber and a sub-optimal powder that the material commands insisted would work fine in the field. Then they found a lot dead GIs trying to clear jammed weapons and continued to deny it.

It eventually got into the press, then the Congress and was finally fixed with how many unnecessary deaths? And in these circumstances, troops are supposed to keep quiet and do or die? And to put protecting the machine and program against embarrassment above their own lives?

I find that idea abhorrent.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 10, 2012 11:36 AM    Report this comment

I called them that name because the air force brass does not want to loose expensive airplanes nor do they want failed missions. As far as I can find out, there are emergency systems and "pilot error" was the cause of the 2010 incident.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 10, 2012 11:40 AM    Report this comment

Now it appears that the mechanics doing engine runups are also being affected.This problem may go deeper than the oxygen system. Maybe something to do with toxic elements in the composites?

Posted by: George Welch | May 10, 2012 12:23 PM    Report this comment

We didn't go crying to the press, or congress. shows our new breed of committment.?? Either work within the system or GET OUT..'

I don't know who you are talking about, but my experience in Vietnam shows me nothing has changed. A rifle company or such would come back from being ambushed, losing half the men, and the brass would tell them not to say they were ambused when speaking to media. Instead, they engaged the enemy but despite heavy losses, were victorious. Obviously, nothing has changed with the pathetic need to CYA in the military.

I hope the Government Accountability Project is involved and exposes these spineless 'leaders' for their weakness to protect their pilots.

Major Gordon and Captain Wilson are willing to give their lives for the freedom we have to berate them, their character blinds their superiors and exposes small-mindedness and fear. I wish them all the best, but history is not on their side.

Posted by: David Miller | May 10, 2012 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Mark Fraser; another typical comment from you. Have you ever served in the military? I'm sure you'd love to trade in your 152 for an F22. The F22 costs a fortune and only the best pilots get a seat. Training these pilots costs a fortune as well, so why is the brass risking both for an aircraft that has no combat mission to date. Fix the problem, then fly the jet. Don't risk both these valuable assets when it is not necessary. Peter K. What are you talking about? It has been my experience that for two of the services elite pilots to bin their careers on something like this it has gone past the point of relying on the chain of command and respect for the service. Where is the respect for the pilots and the men that place themselves on the front line? Smells the Bradley IFV all over again.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 10, 2012 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Whistle blowers and juries are the only things that can keep the government honest, but the government goes after the former as though they are the enemy. The Obama administration has been more aggressive against whistle blowers than any other administration, federal statutes protecting them notwithstanding.

These 2 officers have shown courage and dignity and should be promoted, but the system doesn't work that way.

Dave Miller, I'm shocked to discover that military brass would tell junior officers and enlisted to tell false accounts to the media! Shocked!

Posted by: Richard Sinnott | May 10, 2012 1:23 PM    Report this comment

Trevor, I've actually worked for the manufacturer. There is NO WAY that problems are ignored. Period.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 10, 2012 1:23 PM    Report this comment

“….As far as I can find out, there are emergency systems and "pilot error" was the cause of the 2010 incident….”

“Pilot error” is the bin box used when no one can find a ‘smoking gun’.

In this case, pilot error was the cause because the pilot lost situational awareness. This after getting woozy from either hypoxia or breathing contaminates.

Most people that become hypoxic are not even aware of it. In this case, the pilot was aware of it. Good training.

The pilot was trying to activate the emergency oxygen system. The flight was in Alaska and the pilot was wearing cold weather gear.

Some of the review board members demonstrated that with cold weather gear, the pilot could probably not see nor reach the system to activate it. Whilst the pilot was busy trying to, the aircraft got into a near vertical position that was not recoverable. Bad luck, or pilot error.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 10, 2012 2:02 PM    Report this comment

The OBOGS systems have been using a molecular sieve bed technology with for quite some time. The early B-1Bs reported "dusting" problems at the crew mask that had to be resolved. Not a new problem but maybe different issue for the Litton units. Possibly high g's/vibration experienced in the fighter are causing the filter beds to breakup and make dust. Pilots are concerned about inhaling this dust and the instances of hypoxia. OBOGS system save weight over a liquid oxygen converter where LOX is boiled off and delivered to the mask. Also, ground refilling of OBOGS is usually not needed so easier for maintenance.

Posted by: Donald Wiltse | May 10, 2012 2:08 PM    Report this comment

I'm guessing that there a lot of signatures by Lockheed and A.F. people on all the 'Design Reviews' done on these systems during development.

BTW, the OBOGS is a relatively simple system that scrubs nitrogen from compressed air to concentrate the oxygen. Bleed air from the engines is used as the compressed air. Using bleed air is done thousands of times a day for pressurizing airlines without contamination.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 10, 2012 2:13 PM    Report this comment

Possibly something to do with the bleed air coming from these particular engines? (As I recall, this is the first fighter jet engine with super-cruise capability)

Posted by: Gary Baluha | May 10, 2012 2:24 PM    Report this comment

There were a lot of signatures on the design review on the O-rings for the Space Shuttle as well. Launch decision with a known problem and a history of data. Normalization of deviance is alive and well.

Posted by: Shannon Forrest | May 10, 2012 3:52 PM    Report this comment

For those interested, here's a link to the Alaska F-22 accident report from a site full of choice comments about its veracity.

www dot

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 10, 2012 4:15 PM    Report this comment

The "Brass" cares. A large number of AF senior officers are fighter pilots who know the demands of tactical aviation. This is a very difficult and complex problem with a very low failure rate. We all want easy and quick answers, but there are none. It will take time to figure it out and we must fly the airplane to do it. I wish it were not so, but it is.

Posted by: Tommy Williams | May 10, 2012 8:50 PM    Report this comment

Right Mark, and the manufacturers are always more reliable and honest than these wussie Air Force Officers... and I guess there is absolutely no pressure from the politically connected manufacturers to support a very expensive piece of kit and white wash over serious concerns and health risks to the pilots. I wonder what John McCain has to say about it.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 10, 2012 10:22 PM    Report this comment

I note these planes are mostly based in Alaska and other remote areas so when they crash it isn't likely to be on top of a residential neighborhood. I wonder what would happen if these things were flown over DC and the pilots who became disoriented decided to eject from these very expensive aircraft and they came down in some Georgetown neighborhood. Watch how fast they would be grounded and a not flown again until a solution was found....

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 10, 2012 10:29 PM    Report this comment

Trevor, I was just going to post this:

The " Brass" cares. '

If you watch the 60minutes Overtime segment not only were the pilots concerned for other pilots in the program, of which a 'very low failure rate' conflicts with their multiple experiences from mulitple pilots over many sorties, but they also were concerned that these training exercises are still occuring over large population centers - Major Gordon said he flies right over his child's school. Insisting Major Gordon fly over his kid's school to test out a serious problem with his aircraft hardly qualifies for concern for human life. I submit they are astoundingly out of touch and are reckless in their disregard for the pilots and all who are involved in the program.

Of the senior officers who are fighter pilots themselves, and if they care so much about their pilots, let's see them fly this broken ship over their child's schools repeatedly until they 'figure it out.' Think we'll see any takers?

Posted by: David Miller | May 10, 2012 10:46 PM    Report this comment

I agree Dave, as a former military UH-1H driver we didn't have the option to eject, but I think that if I were these guys, having reached my wits end with these problems and lack of support from higher ups and feeling that I may become so disoriented I would lose control of the aircraft and go down with the ship, I might be tempted to eject when I felt these symptoms taking over. If a few pilots did that, losing several of these costly aircraft may force a reconsideration of the urgency to fix the problem....however ejecting also has serious health risks.. ;)

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 10, 2012 10:57 PM    Report this comment

Loved the Hueys, Trevor. Incredible machines I never got tired of hearing their 'thump thump'- slicks, I think some guys called them.(?) They could do anything, carry anything, real workhorses. I wouldn't know the first thing about how to fly 'em, tho. :/

Posted by: David Miller | May 10, 2012 11:36 PM    Report this comment

Slicks carried troops into battle and out. Gunships carried firepower and Dustoff picked up wounded.

Long live the UH-1

Posted by: Richard Sinnott | May 11, 2012 7:28 AM    Report this comment

Somewhere I remember reading that there was evidence of F22 problems with pilots giving blood samples with more engine oil molecules in them than white cells...
Evidently it is a big problem, and I suspect it is because the oxygen generator is so buried in the rest of the engine that they cannot just hoik it out without redoing the whole caboodle.
To my mind it will be better to just do away with the pilots and switch to ground-controlled aircraft. It should not be difficult, they are all digitally controlled now.
They will only be used if Russia or China launch an attack on the US with their, yet to be commissioned most modern fighters, and having the F22 able to blast them at two times the speed of sound without the worry of pilots on board will be a great deterrent.
Meanwhile the old F15 with pilots, will catch the bewildered rest..

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | May 11, 2012 8:10 AM    Report this comment

Somewhere I remember reading that there was evidence of F22 problems with pilots giving blood samples with more engine oil molecules in them than white cells...
Evidently it is a big problem, and I suspect it is because the oxygen generator is so buried in the rest of the engine that they cannot just hoik it out without redoing the whole caboodle.
To my mind it will be better to just do away with the pilots and switch to ground-controlled aircraft. It should not be difficult, they are all digitally controlled now.
They will only be used if Russia or China launch an attack on the US with their, yet to be commissioned most modern fighters, and having the F22 able to blast them at two times the speed of sound without the worry of pilots on board will be a great deterrent.
Meanwhile the old F15 with pilots, will catch the bewildered rest..

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | May 11, 2012 8:10 AM    Report this comment

Hi Dave, yes, great of the skies. No crashworthy seats and a single engine made it not the safest aircraft, but rugged non the less. In fact, the Vietnam era pilots used to overload them so much that they used to skip them along the ground till they got into translational lift just to get a load of troops airborne, the landing was more like a running crash landing. The don't perform well hot and hi. Spot on Richard, slicks used to only have two M60 door guns or none at all. I remember an instructor at Rucker telling us on his 1st tour he flew dust off and the VC used to think the Red Cross on the side was a perfect target.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 11, 2012 9:25 AM    Report this comment

Brian, you probably right about the OBOGS system being deeply embedded and difficult to isolate; however I doubt there will ever be a direct conflict between the US, Russia and China. These sorts of things have always been fought by proxy. Satellite Wars provide a great proving ground for technology and tactics. Just watch the Spratleys or Scarborough Shoals. There is already something brewing between China and the Philippines, which has a Defense cooperation treaty with the US.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 11, 2012 9:29 AM    Report this comment

"Right Mark, and the manufacturers are always more reliable and honest than these wussie Air Force Officers"

Manufactures are 100% responsive to safety and/or reliability concerns of the customer. So far the customer says that the problems have been operational. Obviously things will "break" in service and more so in extremes(like Alaska). If items are known to break then both SERVICE and TRAINING need to be ramped up.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 11, 2012 10:36 AM    Report this comment

"I submit they are astoundingly out of touch and are reckless in their disregard for the pilots and all who are involved in the program" Dave, you could not be more wrong. These are very good and honorable people who are trying to do the right thing who do fly the jet in all conditions. BTW, both pilots now want to return to flying the jet.

Posted by: Tommy Williams | May 14, 2012 8:10 AM    Report this comment

These are very good and honorable people who are trying to do the right thing...'

If that is true, then the Peter Principle is in effect - 'Employees tend to rise to reach their level of incompetence' - and they need to tap their personal honor and request reassignment.

Your defense of the brass and avoidance of the seriousness of the problem does not convince me of anything but protectionism - the honor and goodness to do the right thing was displayed by only two people in this scenario, all others showed fear or incompetence. We prove our character through actions, not words or assumptions. Thinking someone has the right stuff doesn't make it so.

Posted by: David Miller | May 14, 2012 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Dave, I know personally the people involved, the senior officers, many F-22 pilots and the two pilots who were on 60 Minutes. As a USAF fighter pilot for 30+ years, who cares for his young pilots as if they were my sons, I find your remarks way off the mark. Your assertion that only two people out of all F22 pilots and the Air Force structure that supports that aircraft are honorable is astounding. The two pilots have requested to return to flying now with the aircraft as it is. Are they too not honorable?

Posted by: Tommy Williams | May 14, 2012 4:11 PM    Report this comment

Tommy, if all you say is true, then please explain why those two pilots were so frustrated they took the matter to the media. Also, if you have been in the USAF for 30+ years you must be a Flag Officer by now, so perhaps you are the best one to explain the failure of those in command to find a fix for the aircraft. You and I both know that if those two pilots wee called to go into action in defense of their country they would do so with the plane as it is, however they both realize that to risk the aircraft and their lives, and the lives of their fellow aviators for a flawed aircraft in peace time is a waste of valuable resources. The situation is shameful and your defense of the situation as a senior officer is also shameful. Are you alleging now that the two pilots went public on a whim and now have suddenly decided that it's all not so bad so lets just forget it....Come on..get real.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 14, 2012 8:27 PM    Report this comment

We have had problems with this airplane, just like all sophisticated airplanes. It is about risk management and we have done the calculation, yes subjective to a degree, that we must continue to fly. Remember, every day F-22s fly with no issue. In fact, it's accident rate is as low as any fighter in history. It does fly in some regimes that we have never routinely operated and we will learn new things that will help us to further mitigate risk, just as in all new high performance aircraft. I do not fault the pilots that were on 60 Minutes, they have a point of view and experiences that I do not discount, but I also do not discount the point of view of the other 99% of Raptor pilots who continue to fly. We stood down the Raptor for several months because we take this seriously and after a thorough investigation we decided to return to fly. The two pilots on 60 Minutes desire to return to fly because they had issues with the filters we mandated after our stand down. Filters we hoped would gather any contaminates that might be present, but pilots did not like them. Restricted breathing issues and charcoal dust. We have now removed them having found no conclusive evidence of contamination. I do not take this lightly nor do any other Air Force officers, this is serious business. The Raptor is one of the most incredible airplanes ever produced. A 60 Minute episode is not a sufficient data point to make decisions regards a program of this complexity and far reaching consequences.

Posted by: Tommy Williams | May 14, 2012 8:59 PM    Report this comment

With due respect, Tommy, and a nod to Trevor's points, you simply are towing the company line. We don't know if the other Raptor pilots are confident or afraid or not - that's information you cannot use for argument because they will most likely never say. Secondly, you prove my point about incompetency by, after taking the jet out of service for examination, it was put back into service without solving the problem and was still causing pilots serious complications. Heads should be rolling.

Your continued defense of the powers-in-charge and statement 'The Raptor is one of the most incredible airplanes ever produced ' continues the sad trail of misguided military direction, when you should be shouting pledges that no piece of machinery or directive from the political military complex will ever come between my men and their safety! Instead, you hang by a thin thread of false security, weighted down by only one pilot death in Alaska instead of a schoolyard full of children over Norfolk.. How different this conversation would be, no? And how fortunate for you.

60 minutes may not be the best data point, but couple that with a disasterous crash and dozens of civilian deaths and this billion dollar program will be buried so fast no one will remember it. You better hope your 'sons' keep that from happening.

Posted by: David Miller | May 14, 2012 10:33 PM    Report this comment

Well said Dave. Tommy, how can you claim that 99% of the pilots are happy to fly the aircraft as is? Are you a line pilot sitting in the crew room? I doubt it since after 30+ years you would now be off flight status and in a very senior management role (Flag Officer) It is my experience that most of the line pilots will gripe only so far upwards if they want to keep getting promoted so that means Captains to Majors and Majors to Lt. Col. After that politics comes into play and you get the yes men wanting to stay in the military and that means towing the party line and playing politics to get your next promotion. I doubt that 99% of you boys are happy and there are only two malcontents. Likely that is the tip of the iceberg. I believe the filters in question were fitted after the fatal crash in Alaska and I know there were grumbles before that happened so to claim it is all over bad filters beggars belief. If you have been in 30+ years then you have got a good pension so why don't you fall on your sword and admit the issues and really stand up for your boys. The boys will worship you for it, but you may lose some friends in the Pentagon and maybe a lucrative consultancy job after retirement.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 14, 2012 11:25 PM    Report this comment

Tommy, maybe I came off a little bit more offensive than I meant to be in my last post. I'm assuming you are Brig Gen Tommy J.Williams, assistant to the Director of Operations, Headquarters Air Combat Command, with 3,700+ hours in the F-15, F-5E, F-4E and F-16 and I have a great deal of respect for you and your experience, which includes a great deal of experience in the crew room, so I know that you know what I'm talking about when I say that a lot more is said in those crew rooms than ever reaches the senior included. Flying High Performance Combat Aircraft has always been a risky business, but I always assumed that the USAF Chain of Command had great respect and support for the front line. It's not flight test at Edwards in the '50s anymore, there are many more simulations in place to test aircraft these days, but something seems to have gone wrong here somewhere. If the groundies are also getting sick there is some sort of problem with the F22 that needs fixing. I also understand the complexities of the Defense/industrial/Political Complex, I have worked in it. The assumption that the F22 is so complex and HP that it is having problems beyond what has been experienced in the past may be true, but that has always been the case. These days, with all the modern technological resources available, it just is unacceptable to have your best and brightest pilots as lab rats.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 15, 2012 8:54 AM    Report this comment

Dave and Trevor, the 99% do continue to fly and most are hanging around the ops counter looking to scarf up as many sorties as they can because they love their airplane and they want to fly it. The airplanes accident rate is lower than any fighter in the inventory. The one fatal operational accident was due to spatial disorientation. These are facts gentlemen. You do not have to trust me, I do not care. But they are still facts. We will continue to work hard to mitigate as much risk as possible, but there will always be risk. People in command must make those tough calls and as always there will be those who have no responsibility that will criticize in a less than constructive manner. I must say that the personal attacks and career advice are less than helpful, but I wish you both the best. Now, I'm going flying! Cheers

Posted by: Tommy Williams | May 15, 2012 10:00 AM    Report this comment

Trevor, I did not read your post prior to posting mine, so if I came off less than polite I apologize. Again, I wish you both the best. Good Day

Posted by: Tommy Williams | May 15, 2012 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Gen Williams, Sir, I believe it was I who was the least polite and I had assumed that you were some desk jockey...far from the truth, given your background (I should have done my background checks first) and I did offer you some unsolicited career advice that was rather brutal (I departed as an O-4). Given your experience at the coal face, I hope that you are able to help sort out the mysterious occurrences around the OBOGS so that the F22 can be "all it can be". There is a problem there somewhere, lets hope it can be sorted before another tragedy. Good Luck and once again please accept my apologies...and enjoy your flight!

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 15, 2012 10:57 AM    Report this comment

"....they had issues with the filters we mandated after our stand down. Filters we hoped would gather any contaminates that might be present, but pilots did not like them. Restricted breathing issues and charcoal dust. We have now removed them having found no conclusive evidence of contamination...."

I find this troubling. There are many filters available 'off-the-shelf' in the medical and research communities that have a low enough restriction as to not impede breathing (even by exercising athletes) and do not make carbon dust, even when activated carbon is used as part of the media. They are capable of filtering to near sub-micron particle size.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 15, 2012 12:21 PM    Report this comment

Trevor, we both were hardly on the fence about the subject and felt passionate about the unresolved problem with the F22. So did many on this thread, but something stuck a chord with Tommy Williams for him to focus on us. Even the blog puts forth many questions that Tommy avoided addressing.

You may be correct in your deduction of who this man is, but if you're right, all along he did not disclose his identity and never really answered any questions from us and others, contrast that with the two pilots in full disclosure, answering all questions and risking their careers.

When I hear that F22 pilots are going into hyperbolic chambers, taking out extra insurance for their families, rooms full of Raptor pilots having the 'Raptor cough', vertigo and sleeplessness, and that these two concerned pilots think it's a vast, yet silent majority of F22 pilots who feel the same as they do about the problem, I tend to believe them. Going public was a cry out for a solution to a serious problem. Yet they will always be scrutinized first and blamed eventually as happened here if you read closely. It's not surprising, just dissapointing and always predictable. Cheers.

Posted by: David Miller | May 15, 2012 1:35 PM    Report this comment

"hyperbaric chambers"

Their only value to a pilot would be to to recover from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hypoxia can be easily treated by just breathing 100% oxygen for a few minutes at normobaric conditions.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 15, 2012 2:08 PM    Report this comment

I spelled out the wrong chamber, thanks.

The Air Force sent the pilots into a hyperbaric chamber according to their interview. Needed or not, that was its decision.

Posted by: David Miller | May 15, 2012 2:30 PM    Report this comment

Dave, I'm the one in the hyperbolic chamber. My desk is situated in one. C'mon over some time and we'll have a beer in it.

You raise a good point, however. Trevor, I think you assigned Tommy Williams an identity which he neither confirmed or denied. So I'd ask that Tommy disclose one way or the other.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 15, 2012 3:41 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Dave, you are right of course. I have to give Tommy due respect for his rank and experience however you are correct in stating that he avoided a number of issues.. "The one fatal operational accident was due to spatial disorientation. These are facts gentlemen." ..but what caused the spatial disorientation? It is hard to examine the remains of the pilot to check his blood for excess CO2 or other contaminants after a near vertical dive into the ground at over Mach 1, I doubt there were any remains. He reported issues with his OBOGS prior to the crash..and other are reporting the same problem. These reports are facts just the same, the other fact is that they still haven't been able to figure out what is causing it. These problems are only being reported on the F22, another fact. There are lots of "facts", but no solutions..yet. These two pilots had to invoke federal whistle blower protection to come forward, which is telling in itself.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 15, 2012 3:52 PM    Report this comment

"Brig. Gen. Tommy J. Williams is the mobilization assistant to the Director of Operations, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The directorate is responsible to the ACC Commander on all matters pertaining to the direct operational planning, training, and command and control functions to deploy and employ regular and Reserve component combat air forces, including more than 1,900 aircraft, in support of U.S. security objectives. General Williams entered the Air Force in 1981 as a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He earned his wings as a graduate of pilot training at Reese AFB, Texas, in 1983. His career includes seven years on active duty as an F-15C flight lead and F-5E instructor pilot before joining the Air Force Reserve in 1989. His commands include the 457th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and 301st Operations Group. He was also the Vice Commander, 301st Fighter Wing. His expeditionary experience includes 200 combat hours flown during operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Afghanistan.General Williams is a command pilot with more than 3,700 hours in the F-15, F-5E, F-4E and F-16."

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 15, 2012 4:02 PM    Report this comment

I tried to post the link to his USAF bio, but I see it won't let me...

Posted by: Trevor Evans | May 15, 2012 4:04 PM    Report this comment

I knew you had one, Paul. Anyone with actual pics of invisible ice walls has to have one... A cold one sounds good, too, thanks.

Trevor, I agree with your reading of 'the facts' and how they're used. I'm waiting for the whistle first, though, before I go carrying the ball of Mr. Williams' identity down the field...

Posted by: David Miller | May 15, 2012 5:59 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I think you will find that he is this Tommy Williams:

And how am I to find this, Trevor? Are we supposed to take your word in his behalf or just assume there's only one Tommy Williams in the world?

I would just as soon have people identify themselves rather than have a pasted in bio by a third party, if ya don't mind. I'd rather not just assume it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 15, 2012 6:40 PM    Report this comment

This is getting close attention since the 60 minutes segment. I just heard that Sec. of Defense Panetta has ordered the Air Force to restrict all F22 training flights to keep close to landing fields and away from populated areas. He also wants a speedy solution for an automatic switch over from primary oxygen delivery to backup systems. Kudos to Wilson and Gordon, they are seeing immediate results from their bold and courageous stance. Now, should we ask why Panetta is reacting this way? I don't care - this news is good enough and real progress. Love to hear what Mr. Williams has to say about this.

Posted by: David Miller | May 15, 2012 8:38 PM    Report this comment

The "long time" symptoms worry me. Could there be a fungus or other plant material induced into the system? How about the quarters? Or just any common area. Just say'n.

Posted by: Larry Fries | May 16, 2012 4:50 AM    Report this comment

I haven't worked on aircraft in a long time, never worked on fighters. Is it normal to pump the aircraft's oxygen system through the engine as is done on the'22? I plead ignorance here. I just thought that odd, and if there were a place where I'd expect the issue to be, that'd be it. I guess I'm just being overly simplistic. Bottom line is this- they've lost pilots and they have ill pilots. The aircraft need to be grounded until the problem is 100% resolved, and LMCO needs to make the fix at ZERO additional cost to the taxpayer. I should think somewhere someone missed some very big issues, or someone doctored some paperwork, to get this aircraft operational. If I wasn't old and cynical enough to know better, I'd hope an investigation as to who was not looking out for the taxpayers, let alone our pilots, ought to land someone dicsiplinary action. Even if that were established, it would likely come down on some poor schmuck of a 2nd Lt rather than the generals and administrators who are really responsible for this mess.
Just quit screwing around to save face, guys, and fix the goddamn problem.

Posted by: Gary Smrtic | May 16, 2012 7:32 AM    Report this comment

I'm kind of off topic here but just wanted to comment on the statement in the e-mail lead-in to this article where you refer to the F-22 as...

"...the most expensive fighter aircraft in U.S. history by orders of magnitude?"

An order of magnitude normally means a power of ten, i.e. an order of magnitude is 10 times the base amount - two orders of magnitude are 100 times, etc. Your use of "Orders of magnitude..." implies at least two, which indicates you are claiming that the F-22 is 100 or more times as expensive as the next most costly fighter. I don't think that's the case here - more a matter of journalistic hyperbole.

John Allard

Posted by: John Allard | May 16, 2012 8:41 AM    Report this comment

Some points to consider after reading Paul's rant:

There now exists a military whistle blowers law that protects military members in situations like this. The Air Force has said it will not retaliate against the two pilots who went public.

The two pilots who went public are members of the National Guard. Unlike active duty pilots these pilots can not be sent to the Eareckson Air Station Command Post and then kicked out at the 17 year point. Like most Guard pilots, they probably aren't in the Guard for promotions anyway.

My understanding is that General Officers are regularly flying the F-22 these days. Normally I'd consider this to be an abuse of rank, but in this case these senior officers are showing leadership by taking the same risks as the line pilots.

According to the report on the F-22 Alaska crash, the accident F-22 had just completed a night surface attack mission. Night surface attack is the most dangerous training mission that can be flown by line crews. In my opinion, the Air Force has no business risking these precious air superiority aircraft flying missions that should be performed by the F-15E or F/A-18. The F-22 is just too important to use for air-to-mud, we have better airplanes for that mission.

Posted by: Jim Howard | May 16, 2012 10:15 AM    Report this comment

The air superiority mission of the Air Force is in a lot of ways a victim of its own success. Even experienced aviators like Paul B don't seem to be able to imagine a world where some other country could seriously challenge the United States for domination of the air.

Since the end of WWII American ground forces have been attacked from the air only twice, once in the Korean war, and one attack conducted by an AN-2 biplane on a CIA radar station in Laos during the Viet Nam war.

As Americans, we don't have some kind of divine right to always control the air over any area of conflict. This isn't a given.

Maybe the F-22 is overkill for the next conflict. But I'd rather not take that chance.

I'm glad we have the best air superiority airplane in the world. If we have to restrict training missions for the F-22 until we get to the bottom of this O2 issue then we'll just deal with it.

Posted by: Jim Howard | May 16, 2012 10:15 AM    Report this comment

"The Brass Cares"

Let's get this straight from the top. Especially at the top, US military officers are fine people. Very few poor characters ever get stars. Hollywood has it wrong.

So, they care So what? Officers are not evaluated on their caring, they are supposed to be evaluated on results. They are not. They are given highly subjective evaluations on top of stacked decks to ensure that the next generation looks like the present one. Still, the cream mostly rises to the top.

What gets squelched is innovative and disruptive behavior. The types of personalities that exhibi those traits are weeded out ruthlessly. Try something new and fail and you are done, while failing using the SOP is ignored. On top of that, there is personality type bias by raters. Only in extreme situations will an O3 (Captains for Army and Air Force) or above start innovating, and the higher you go, the less likely you get someone to buck the system.

Some generals having arrived, take th risks of innovative behavior, but mostly it's been beaten out of them by he process.

So, that's how Americas finest can't solve problems like this, and it's not an easy system to fix. It's like capitalism. The fixes are often worse than the problems in the long run (see socialism).

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 16, 2012 11:39 AM    Report this comment

"Even experienced aviators like Paul B don't seem to be able to imagine a world where some other country could seriously challenge the United States for domination of the air."

Actually, I can imagine that. But the only way I am qualified to judge this is as an informed taxpayer. I read the trade press about perceived threats and the geopolitical situation in the world and form an opinion accordingly.

I've read what Dwight Eisenhower said about the military industrial complex and unlike other presidents, he had seen it from both sides. I therefore don't accept that the military needs or that we should buy every weapons system proposed in the name of patriotism and exceptionalism just because the Pentagon or a defense contractor says so.

Preparing to defend against these threats is a matter of calculating probabilities--how much to spend to meet how much threat. In the case the F-22, the threat to be countered is almost entirely imaginary. I haven't seen good essay outlining what the airplane is meant to protect against other than the future.

That alone doesn't make me think the program is a waste or that it shouldn't have gone forward. But I question whether it is actually worth its enormous cost. And whether it is or it isn't, the damn thing ought to work as its supposed to.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 16, 2012 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Wow! All this banter has me out of breath. What an interesting back and forth.
Finding out who the real Tommy Williams is like "What's My Line" about a thousand years ago on TV.

Posted by: Pamela Griffen | May 16, 2012 2:05 PM    Report this comment

I think we heard, a few years ago, that we've never lost an F-15 in an air-to-air combat mission. And, while I understand the planning for the F-22 and F-35 needed to be started many years ago, I am with Paul on questioning their cost/benefit. I had/have similar doubts about the V-22 Osprey.

I've also heard the arguments that we need to maintain a competent engineering/manufacturing base 'just in case we need it'. In other words, keep the pipe-line flowing to put stuff at Davis-Monthan.

We have competent engineering/manufacturing capability building commercial aircraft. Seems like something we could adapt for 'just in case we need it'.

We outspend the rest of the world in weapons systems many times over. Whatever is in the pipe-line to replace the F-22 should be ???

Do we need the F-22? As we have already paid for them, let's de-bug them by patrolling Alaskan airspace. Do we really have a threat there that requires their competence?

I am familiar with oxygen generating systems. They are so bloody simple I cannot believe whatever issues they have are not yet identified. As I noted in a prior post, I am astounded that a suitable ‘add-on’ filter could not be found to isolate whatever contaminates are causing problems. What ever they used caused restrictive breathing and generated ‘charcoal’ dust ?? I can’t think of a reason why that should be.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 16, 2012 3:55 PM    Report this comment

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