Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
By DANA LIEBELSON
Congressional support for the two pilots who disclosed grave health problems with the F-22 Raptor fighter jet is picking up steam. Thanks in part to these efforts, the Air Force has publicly promised to protect these top pilots from retaliation; however, it still has not rescinded a letter of reprimand sent to one of the pilots, nor taken adequate steps to address the health allegations, despite the fact that additional pilots have come forward echoing the concerns.
Last week at a hearing held by a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, General Janet Wolfenbarger said that the Air Force’s “chief and secretary” have made it clear that the two F-22 pilots have whistleblower protections. However, as Danger Room recently reported, the Air Force has yet to rescind its letter of reprimand sent to pilot Josh Wilson. As POGO readers know, a letter of reprimand can be the first step in potentially ending a government employee’s career.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told The Daily Press that additional F-22 pilots have voiced concerns to him about the health problems with the aircraft—which include hypoxia-like symptoms that can prevent a pilot from safely operating the plane.
Sen. Warner sent a letter last week to the Secretary of the Air Force, “requesting a confidential survey of F-22 pilots and Air Force flight surgeons to determine the scope of the hypoxia problems and other health issues reported by the F-22 pilots.” He also recommended setting up a toll-free hotline to support anonymous dialogue—staffed by trained individuals—and establishing a high-level task force to identify the root causes of the safety issues. The letter was cosigned by Rep. Adam Kinsinger (R-IL).
It appears the Air Force has yet to take adequate action on addressing the new allegations. Instead, it is reframing the corrective actions it took in September 2011 as an adequate answer to the newly-disclosed health concerns. The Los Angeles Times may call the Air Force’s almost year-old safety regulations “new,” but we beg to differ. In light of the most recent allegations, the Air Force should ground the F-22 fleet until a thorough investigation is conducted.
“The Air Force needs to do more than give lip service to the safety of these pilots’ lives and careers,” said POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury. “They need to restore their records, honor their service, and ground the Raptor before it kills one of these brave pilots or others.”
In November 2010, an F-22 crashed in a training exercise in Alaska. The pilot, Capt. Jeff Haney, died in the crash. The Air Force initially blamed the crash on the pilot even though it found that a malfunction caused severe, restrictive breathing, but later walked back that sentiment.
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.
Photo via Senator Mark Warner.