Patt Morrison for May 3, 2012

Air Force pilots reluctant to fly F-22 Raptors citing ongoing oxygen problems

E.A.A. 2007 AirVenture Fly-In

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The newest fighter in the U.S. Air Force arsenal, the F-22 Raptor, flys over the crowd during the Experimental Aircraft Association's 2007 AirVenture annual fly-in and convention on July 28, 2007 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The F-22 Raptor is the United States Air Force’s newest, most advanced and most expensive fighter jet in its arsenal. Raptors were designed to incorporate stealth technology to evade enemy radar and are powerful enough to cruise at speeds over mach 1 without the use of afterburners – the only fighter in the world capable of such performance.

All of this technology doesn’t come cheap - each of the cutting edge planes has a price tag of $143 million, not counting research and development costs which see that figure ballooning as high as $412 million per unit.

The first Raptors were deployed in 2005, but through two ongoing conflicts the Air Force’s 195 F-22’s have not significantly been utilized for missions. Now, a group of top pilots are refusing their assignments to fly Raptors, citing problems with the F-22’s oxygen system during flight.

A lack of oxygen can lead to hypoxia, which can cause dizziness, blackouts and fatal crashes. The ongoing problem prompted General William M. Fraser III of Air Combat Command to ground the entire fleet of Raptors for several months in 2011.

The penalties for refusing flight orders in the Air Force are severe and can include discharge. Two hundred pilots are qualified to fly the F-22, which are stationed at seven bases across the country, but the Air Force has declined to disclose the exact number of pilots refusing to fly.

WEIGH IN:

Should pilots be able to refuse to fly an aircraft they feel is unsafe? How much will it cost taxpayers to fix the Raptor’s technical issues?

Guests:

John Campbell, former Marine F-18 combat pilot and aviation expert at Aero Consulting Experts

Bill Hartung, analyst, director of the Arms and Security Project at The Center for International Policy, and author of “Lockheed Martin and the GOP: Profiteering and Pork Barrel Politics With a Purpose”

General Richard E. Hawley, retired 4-star General, former F-15 fighter pilot and air combat commander at Langley Air Force Base


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