By DANA LIEBELSON
The Air Force has disclosed that the rate of oxygen problems among F-22 Raptor pilots is worse than it previously reported: about nine times higher than the rate for any other U.S. military aircraft, according to documents released today by Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
The rate of hypoxia or hypoxia-like incidents reported among F-22 pilots through May 31, 2012 was 26.43 per 100,000 flight hours, according to the latest Air Force disclosure. The F-16, in contrast, has a rate of 2.96.
The Air Force provided the information in response to a series of questions the lawmakers posed in May, when they cited “grave concerns” about the aircraft.
The Air Force also says that there have been “a total of six unknown cause ground incidents involving a maintainer having hypoxia-like symptoms since return to flight in September 2011. The most recent incident occurred in December 2011. These incidents are not included in the in-flight rates since they occur on the ground.”
The new information differs sharply from previous reports. As recently as this week, according to the press release, the Air Force said that the F-22 hypoxia rate was “relatively low.”
Combat Command spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis also told The Air Force Times in May that “at least five” ground maintainers complained of illness.
The Air Force continues to offer a plethora of potential sources of the problem, including charcoal filters in the pilots’ air supply system and pressure vests worn by the fliers . In the new release, the Air Force says the “root cause for the incidents to date has not been determined.”
The Air Force is claiming that it has “carefully weighed the safety risk of flying the F-22 against the risk to our nation if the F-22 was unable to fulfill its mission.”
However, the F-22, which received approval for full rate production in 2005 and is the most expensive fighter jet per copy ever purchased by the U.S. government, has never been used in a combat zone.
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.