Pilots asking not to fly F-22 after oxygen problems
Take my breath away
Some of the US Air Force's top pilots are asking not to fly the highest-tech aircraft in the fleet over fears about the safety of the oxygen system built into the F-22 Raptor.
"It's shocking to me as a fighter pilot and former commander of Air Combat Command that a pilot would decline to get into that airplane," retired four-star General Richard E. Hawley told the LA Times, adding that he'd never heard such a request in his 35 years in the service.
The F-22 is America's latest generation fighter aircraft, and the most expensive to date with a price-per-plane of anywhere upwards of $300m. But it has been plagued by problems, ranging from its stealthy outer shell being defective or its initial inability to cross international date lines. But over the last few years there have been persistent reports of oxygen problems.
In November 2010 an F-22 piloted by Captain Jeff "Bong" Haney crashed in Alaska after his Environmental Control System (ECS) and On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) shut down automatically. After Haney's death all aircraft were restricted to a ceiling of 25,000 feet, and eventually grounded briefly.
The report found three problems with the emergency oxygen supply system and recommended a rethink. The aircraft's emergency oxygen handle has since been redesigned to make it easier to activate in flight, but Haney's widow is suing the manufacturers Lockheed Martin over the case.
In the event of a loss of oxygen, tug the emergency lever until you crash
Fighter pilots are known to be keen to have the latest, fastest kit and competition to become a test pilot is fierce. For some of the Air Force's most fearless fly-boys to turn down the chance for a go in the superfighter suggest very high levels of concern on the front line.
"We are generally aware of a small number of pilots who have expressed reservations about flying the F-22, and each of those cases will be handled individually through established processes," said Air Force spokesman Major Brandon Lingle. ®
F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia
What both the manufacturers and the USAF (amazingly) refuse to accept is that the onset of annoxia (low oxygen partial pressure) is an insidious process which is NOT noted by the pilot, particularly at high altitude where the condition rapidly transits to hypoxia (lack of oxygen).
One of the first results of annoxia is a "good feeling" - "I'm okay and I'm doing just fine".
That translates to "I do NOT know that I am suffering from a lack of oxygen". And the pilot probably does NOT know. That faculty of the brain which deals with self criticism and self evaluation and evaluation of options by default needs a 100% oxygen flow to realize it is not receiving 100% oxygen. The dichotomy must be clear.
The workload in a fighter cockpit is high. If the aircraft was engaged in route flying on auto pilot like passenger jets then maybe the pilot would realise a problem was occurring. High "G" maneuvring against an adversary in combat causes hyperventilation. If this hyperventilated intake is lacking in oxygen then consciousness is lost before the human being would have been able to even recognize his dilemma.
Now the emergency oxygen appears to be from that small cylinder which is attached to the ejection seat to allow the pilot to remain conscious should he need to eject at altitude: in such an instance he remains in the ejection seat down to about 16,000 ft above sea level before separating and when his 'chute opens.
To expect that the semi-unconscious pilot would a) recognize his hypoxic condition, b) remembers where the difficult to reach lever of the seat cylinder is, c) reach down and activate it, d) wait for his condition to stabilize, all during a 40,000 ft per minute dive and before impact is somewhat reckless. Particularly if there IS a known design problem with the main oxygen generation system - but pilots are being criticized for not activating the emergency system when this known fault in the main system occurs. They simply can not.
This is a dangerous, unprecedented design error.
Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia
Electronic Logistic Computer Helping to Enhance Aerodynamic Position Options in Combat with Live User Selected Target Evasion, Return Fire and Unpredictable jinKing.
No more unlikely than any other acronym I've seen.
@Wombling_Free: well, we also tried it with canaries. Problem was, the canaries went a bit frantic when we lit them.