The F-22 Is Back in the Sky! And Still Kinda Broken!

Illustration for article titled The F-22 Is Back in the Sky! And Still Kinda Broken!

Remember when the Pentagon let the F-35 start flying again, even though its underlying defects hadn't been fixed? They just did literally the exact same thing with the F-22 Raptor. Hope you're not worried about oxygen deprivation.

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This past spring, the country's entire $62 billion F-22 fleet was grounded after pilots reported symptoms of oxygen deprivation. That's indicative of flawed design, and a serious risk even during peacetime. So what has the Air Force done to get its expensive wondertoy back back in action? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But that's not going to stop them from throwing the things back into the air anyway—you see, we'll all just forget about the possibly-fatal oxygen deprivation issues. Instead, we'll just kinda see how it goes!

The return-to-fly plan implements several risk mitigation actions, to include rigorous inspections, training on life support systems, and continued data collection.The aircraft is capable and authorized to fly above 50,000 feet. Pilots will use additional protective equipment and undergo baseline physiological tests. The return-to-fly process will begin with instructor pilots and flight leads regaining their necessary proficiency, then follow with other F-22 wingmen. Prior to the stand down, ACC officials convened a Class E Safety Investigation Board in January 2011 to look into hypoxia-related reports. At the same time, a Hypoxia Deep-Dive Integrated Product Team began an in-depth study on safety issues involving aircraft oxygen generation systems. In June 2011, the Secretary of the Air Force directed the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to continue the oxygen generation study concurrent with the ongoing SIB. A releasable report will be made available later this year.

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Straight from the Air Force's mouth. So, essentially, nothing is fixed, the risk persists, and the Pentagon will try to figure things out as it goes along. Swell. [DoD Buzz]

Photo by Rob Shenk

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DISCUSSION

Xer0Ph0kus
Xer0Ph0kus

I'm an Air Force aircraft mechanic, not on F-22s, but on other airframes. This sounds to me like they didn't do anything, because they don't have the data to support doing anything. Most likely Lockheed built a test set, that will be installed, or carried, or will somehow integrate into the aircraft which will allow them to get more data.

You can't get more data with a grounded fleet. Now they can use their risk mitigation to hypothesize when the oxygen issues will come into play, and not enter those scenarios without the backup support needed, but you can't ground a fleet to find the problem to an scenario that happens in flight.

As maintenance we see this a lot, aircrew complains something happens in flight, we can't reproduce it on the ground for whatever reason, and we sign it off as noted, but nothing we can do. If it continues we don't ground the aircraft, we fly the plane again, with test sets, and maintainers on board (something you can't obviously do on a single seater fighter).

This story bothers me a little bit because it is written with absolutely no understanding of how aircraft problems are solved, and as such takes a very alarmist approach to something that is not as big of deal as it seems.