F-22 Raptor pilots don’t want to fly the stealth fighter jets and want to be reassigned other jobs because of oxygen-deficiency problems known as hypoxia.
Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, told reporters that, “a very small number of pilots have asked not to fly the fifth-generation fighter jets or to be reassigned. Obviously it’s a very sensitive thing because we are trying ensure that the community fully understands all that we’re doing to try to get to a solution.”
While Gen. Mike Hostage didn’t provide the exact number of pilots who don’t want to fly, he did say he wouldn’t force a pilot to fly a plane against his or her will. He also made it clear that person wouldn’t “get a free pass to go do something else.”
The Air Force had to ground 180 Raptors last May after pilots reported problems of hypoxia during flights. Hypoxia occurs when the body doesn’t get enough oxygen then causes a person to get dizzy and altitude sickness, or in the most severe cases, death.
Major General Charles Lyon, who is leading a team examining causes of “hypoxia-like” symptoms with Raptor pilots said, “We’re leaving no stone unturned.”
The Air Force panel team is meeting weekly to investigate the problem and has enlisted the help of NASA and the Navy to help learn more about what happens to the body under extreme conditions, among other things, according to Fox News.
Researchers are now following two theories about the case of hypoxia in the F-22 Raptor jets; that something toxic in the cockpit air might be interfering with a pilot’s oxygen absorption, or that, for some people, a combination of gravity forces at certain altitudes could be to blame.
Hostage said, “We’ve driven down the risk to a level where we can safely operate the airplane.” In the near future, he plans to include himself in that risk. A career pilot with 4,000 hours in the cockpit, Hostage is going to add the F-22 to the list of planes he’s flown.
“My personal belief is that as a four-star, my job is not to be out there flying airplanes. But I’m asking these guys to assume some risks that’s over and above what everybody else is assuming, and I don’t feel like it’s right that I ask them to do it and I’m not willing to do it myself,” he said. “The day we figure out what the problem is, I will stop flying.”
The F-22 Raptor jets are stationed at five bases: Langley Air Force Base, Virginia; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; and Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
The F-22 raptor cost $143 million per jet.