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Blood tests on F-22 Raptor fighter pilots after they reported “hypoxia-like symptoms” during flight have turned up chemicals from oil fumes, burned antifreeze and propane.
But if the Air Force believes that might be a cause of pilots’ symptoms, it’s not saying, reports the Air Force Times. Carbon monoxide also is suspect in the incidents, but it leaves the blood quickly. Many of the troubled flights originated at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
From the Air Force Times:
“There is a lot of nasty stuff getting pumped into the pilots’ bloodstream through what they’re breathing from that OBOGS [On-Board Oxygen Generation System]. That’s fact,” one former F-22 pilot said. “How bad it is, what type it is, exactly how much of it, how long – all these things have not been answered.”
The blood tests were performed after each of the 14 incidents in which pilots reported various cognitive dysfunctions and other symptoms of hypoxia. One couldn’t remember how to change radio frequencies. Another scraped trees on his final approach to the runway – and later could not recall the incident.
“These guys are getting tested for toxins and they’ve [gotten] toxins out of their bloodstreams,” the source said. “One of the guys was expelling propane.”
This source, along with the others, requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
The Raptor fleet was mostly grounded in May, months after Capt. Jeff Haney died in a so far unexplained crash north of Anchorage. The Air Force said it was investigating the F-22s’ onboard oxygen supply system.
Sources said that in Haney’s last few radio calls before his jet disappeared, he sounded drunk, a classic sign of hypoxia. Haney was known as a prodigiously skilled aviator who was in line to attend the elite Air Force Weapons School.
F-22 Raptor pilots have been training in simulators since May, but they will have to be retrained in the actual jets if the grounding extends beyond 210 days, a former pilot said.
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One aircraft whose absence is noticeable over the skies of Libya is the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor air dominance fighter. Analysts said the Raptor was likely excluded due to its inability to communicate with other coalition aircraft and its limited ability to hit ground targets.
“The designers of the F-22 had a dilemma, which is whether to have the connectivity that would allow versatility or to have the radio silence that would facilitate stealthiness. What they opted for was a limited set of tactical data links,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst and chief operating office at the Lexington Institute, Arlington Va.
On of the F-22’s limitation is it can only connect with other F-22s via an intra-flight data link, and can only receive, but not transmit, over the standard Link-16 data link found on most allied aircraft. Radio emissions from various data links could potentially give away the aircraft’s position. For that reason, while the Raptor is the stealthiest operational aircraft in the world, it lacks much of the connectivity found on other warplanes.
The aircraft also lacks a significant air-to-surface punch.
The F-22 aircraft can only use two 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which are GPS-guided bombs, against fixed targets. It does not yet have the ability to carry the 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) or to create synthetic aperture radar maps, which are black and white photo-quality images of the Earth’s surface, needed to select its own ground targets.
Under the Air Force’s global strike task force doctrine, the Raptor would normally escort B-2 Spirit stealth bombers. However, U.S. Africa Command, which is running Operation Odyssey Dawn, confirmed the F-22 has not flown over Libya.
“I see no indication that F-22s were used as an escort for the B-2 nor do I see anything that indicates the Raptor will be used in future missions over Libya,” said Air Force Maj. Eric Hilliard, a spokesman for Africa Command.
On March 20, three B-2 Spirits flew bombing runs out of their base at Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB), Mo., against targets in Libya.
Analysts agreed that the reason for the absence of the Raptor is that it was not needed to defeat Libya’s relatively pedestrian air defenses. The Libyans have a largely obsolete fleet of aircraft and only older model Soviet surface-to-air weaponry.
“Libya is not generally considered a highly capable adversary,” Thompson added.
- Source: AirForceTimes, photo via Google Images
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The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is logging a deployment-intensive pace in early 2011 following a busy 2010, and the company continues to provide key support to the fleet as the Raptor projects power globally.
In January and February, the U.S. Air Force had Raptors deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan, as part of a rotational deployment for a Pacific Air Forces Theater Security Package; to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, for capabilities enhancement testing; and to Nellis AFB, Nev., for Red Flag, an air combat training exercise. F-22s from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, deployed to Japan performed with exceptional readiness, flying 100 percent of a robust sortie schedule in January.
The world’s premier air dominance fighter and the only fully operational 5th generation fighter, the F-22 deployed around the world in 2010, including to Andersen AFB, Guam; Japan; South Korea; and the United Arab Emirates. In a first for the F-22 fleet, Raptors from Holloman AFB, N.M., performed a re-deployment, traveling from Japan to Guam last year. The Holloman Raptors combined with F-22s from Langley AFB to make for 24 total Raptors on Guam at the time.
As the weapon system support integrator, Lockheed Martin supports Raptor deployments through comprehensive and responsive sustainment services as part of a Performance-Based Logistics contract. The company received a $726.6 million contract modification from the Air Force in February for fleet sustainment this year.
When F-22 units deploy, Lockheed Martin field service representatives deploy with them, providing support in areas such as avionics, systems engineering, low observables maintenance, technical information and mission planning. Thanks in part to the contributions of the representatives, Raptor performance in recent global deployments often proved greater than even that of home-station operations.
“The Raptor is a high-demand asset in vital strategic theaters, projecting power, bringing deterrence and enhancing security for the United States and allies,” said Jeff Babione, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 program. “We have been working alongside U.S. Air Force F-22 maintainers to ensure aircraft availability, performance and reliability for pivotal operations around the world.”
Deploying to new areas brings new challenges. Highlighting F-22 performance capabilities in an austere overseas climate, 12 Raptors from the 27th Fighter Squadron based at Langley AFB, Va., flew more than 600 sorties and 1,300 hours while deployed to Andersen AFB from early June to mid October last year.
According to Lt. Col. Pete M. Fesler, squadron commander, Lockheed Martin sustainment representatives proved helpful not only in keeping Raptors flying, but in helping squadron maintainers sharpen their skills.
- Lockheed Martin