The Air Force admitted losing two of its 184 — make that 182 — top-of-the-line F-22 Raptor stealth fighters on Thursday. It was one of the worst days yet in what’s turning out to be a bad year for the pricey, radar-evading jet built by Lockheed Martin.
The F22 stealth fighter costs as much as $678 million per copy.
The recent crashes are only the latest bad news for the cutting-edge F-22, which currently ranks as the Air Force’s most accident-prone fighter. The last of the Raptors rolled out of the Marietta, Georgia, factor in December and flew into a veritable firestorm of controversy.
The Air Force twice grounded all or some of the fleet over concerns about the Raptor’s apparently faulty oxygen system, which might have contributed to a fatal crash in 2010. Two F-22 pilots even mutinied, refusing to fly the speedy, high-flying jet until the Air Force worked out its problems. Months of investigation costing millions of dollars failed to definitively solve the jet’s oxygen woes, although the Air Force is installing a backup oxygen generator just in case.
It seems clear neither the May crash nor yesterday’s incident are related to the stealth plane’s oxygen flaw. But that hardly softens the blow from the recent mishaps. The Air Force wanted 381 F-22s but in 2009 then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates cut that number to just 187, dismissing the pricey jet as a “niche, silver-bullet solution” to the Pentagon’s air-defense needs.
Oxygen Flaw and Raptor Cough
the F-22′s faulty oxygen system, which since at least 2008 has been choking pilots, leading to confusion, memory loss and blackouts — combined known as hypoxia — that may have contributed to at least one fatal crash. Ground crews have also reported growing sick while working around F-22s whose engines are running.
The Air Force claims its has a handle on the in-flight blackouts. All 180 or so F-22s are having faulty filters removed and new backup oxygen generators installed. There have also been changes to the G-suits pilots wear. But the Air Force says the alterations won’t do anything to fix the so-called “Raptor cough,” a chronic condition afflicting almost all F-22 pilots.
The coughing — which, to be clear, is a totally separate issue from hypoxia — is due to a condition known as “acceleration atelectasis,” Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, who headed the Air Force’s Raptor investigation, wrote in response to questions submitted following a September testimony before a House subcommittee. “Acceleration atelectasis results from pilots breathing high concentrations of oxygen (above 60 percent) while wearing anti-G trousers, and exposure to G-forces,” Lyon explained.
Maj. Jeremy Gordon, a Virginia Raptor flier who blew the whistle on the Air Force last year, described a typical room full of F-22 pilots where “the vast majority will be coughing a lot of the time.” One Air Force widow claimed her F-22 pilot husband’s coughing contributed to his suicide.
The coughing, Lyon continued, results from the closure of the lungs’ alveoli as oxygen-rich air is absorbed, leaving insufficient gas such as nitrogen behind to keep the alveoli open. “The normal physiologic response to re-open the alveoli is to cough,” Lyon wrote adding that an F–22 feeds its pilot higher concentrations of oxygen compared to other jets. Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis told ABC News that the Raptor’s extreme performance — flying higher and faster than most planes — could also exacerbate the cough.
F35 Not that Cheap
F-35A: US$107 million (sans engine, 5th LRIP)
F-35B: US$237.7M (weap. sys. cost, 2012)
F-35C: US$236.8M (weap. sys. cost, 2012
The F35 was supposed to cost about $60 million but now costs $200-300 million.
The Obama administration has not expressed any interest in reopening the F22 Raptor production line, preferring instead to continue developing the smaller F-35.
But the F-35 has been repeatedly delayed, so much so that even once-stalwart defenders of the program — history’s most expensive weapons procurement — have wavered. That leaves the F-22 to hold the line mostly on its own for years to come. But every crash leaves the frontline Raptor squadrons with fewer jets, and less firepower in the unlikely event of a full-scale war.
All F35s Grounded because of Engine Crack Problem
All versions a total of 51 planes were grounded Friday pending a more in-depth evaluation of the problem discovered at Edwards. None of the planes have been fielded for combat operations; all are undergoing testing.
In a brief written statement Friday, the Pentagon said it was too early to know the full impact of the newly discovered problem. A watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, said the grounding was not likely to mean a significant delay in the effort to field the aircraft.
SOURCES – Guardian UK, Wired Danger Zone