The Air Force’s fleet of F-22 Raptor fighters has been grounded since May 3 due to toxins entering the cockpit via the aircraft’s life support systems, sources with extensive F-22 experience said.
Service leaders grounded the stealthy twin-engine fighter after pilots suffered “hypoxialike symptoms” on 14 occasions. The incidents affected Raptor pilots at six of seven F-22 bases; the exception is Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
But despite an investigation that has spanned nearly three months, no one yet knows what toxin or combinations of toxins might have caused the incidents, nor is it clear exactly how the chemicals are entering the pilots’ air supply, sources said.
Toxins found in pilots’ blood include oil fumes, residue from burned polyalphaolefin (PAO) anti-freeze, and, in one case, propane. Carbon monoxide, which leaves the blood quickly, is also suspected.
“There is a lot of nasty stuff getting pumped into the pilots’ bloodstream through what they’re breathing from that OBOGS [On-Board Oxygen Generation System]. That’s fact,” one former F-22 pilot said. “How bad it is, what type it is, exactly how much of it, how long — all these things have not been answered.”
The blood tests were performed after each of the 14 incidents in which pilots reported various cognitive dysfunctions and other symptoms of hypoxia. One couldn’t remember how to change radio frequencies. Another scraped trees on his final approach to the runway — and later could not recall the incident.
“These guys are getting tested for toxins and they’ve [gotten] toxins out of their bloodstreams,” the source said. “One of the guys was expelling propane.”
This source, along with the others, requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
The line of inquiry may shed new light on the death of Capt. Jeff “Bong” Haney, a 525th Fighter Squadron pilot who was killed when his F-22 crashed last November near Anchorage. Sources said that in Haney’s last few radio calls before his jet disappeared, he sounded drunk, a classic sign of hypoxia. Haney was known as a prodigiously skilled aviator who was in line to attend the elite Air Force Weapons School.
Air Force officials have said they have not yet completed the investigation into the crash.
Asked for comment about the possibility that F-22 pilots had been exposed to carbon monoxide, an Air Force spokesman, Maj. Chad Steffey said, “The safety of our aircrews is paramount, and the Air Force continues to carefully study all factors of F-22 flight safety.”
Asked about other toxins, Steffey referred questions to the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M., where officials did not respond by press time.
Officials with Lockheed Martin, which builds the aircraft, said they are cooperating with the investigation but cannot comment further.
http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2011/ ... 2s-072511/
Fail. $150 million a pop, maintenance runs into the $50,000 mark per flight hour...
http://www.strategypage.com/dls/article ... 2-2011.asp
And now useless.