Air Force Says Tight Vests Are What Has Been Grounding All These F-22s

For years now, the U.S. Air Force's F-22 Raptors have been relentlessly plagued by some mystery flaw that keeps threatening to suffocate pilots. The previous best guess had something to do with glue but now the USAF is saying it's found the culprit: vests.

According to Air Force Major General Charles Lyon, who presented the findings to the Pentagon, a faulty valve connected to pilots' Combat Edge upper pressure garment caused the vests to inflate too early. The vests, designed to control pilots' breathing at high altitudes and high speeds, were triggering before the extreme G-forces for which they were intended. "It's like putting a corset around your chest," Lyon said.

The vests in question were also used by F-15 and F-16 pilots starting in 1992, but were abandoned in 2004 when officials decided the vests weren't helping as much as expected. F-22s, on the other hand, kept on using the vests since they go a bit higher than their predecessors. The Air Force won't be discontinuing the vest's use for F-22 pilots, but it is developing a new and improved valve that will roll out to all units by the end of the calender year.

If this really is what was causing the problems, it's good news for the Air Force, but it doesn't exactly make them look very good. An anonymous F-16 pilot put it this way to Military.com:

"Either way, the Air Force is incompetent for missing this until now, or dishonest and trying to sweep something under the rug. Not good options."

Either way, these new valves will hopefully put these high tech planes back in the sky for good, but whether or not the saga is really over remains to be seen. [Military.com via Slashdot]