Panetta Orders Extra Safety Measures for F-22s

To help ensure the well-being of F-22 pilots in flight, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has instructed the Air Force to institute some additional safety measures, announced Pentagon officials May 15. First, Panetta directed the Air Force to expedite the installation of an automatic backup oxygen system in all F-22s. This means wrapping up this system’s testing in November and beginning installations in December, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby told reporters during a briefing. Starting in January, retrofits are scheduled to occur at a rate of 10 aircraft per month, he said. Second, Panetta ordered that, effective immediately, “all F-22 flights will remain within the proximity of potential landing locations to enable quick recovery and landing should the pilot encounter unanticipated physiological conditions during flight,” said Panetta’s spokesman George Little at the briefing. Other fighter types will now perform the long-duration aerospace control flights in Alaska in place of F-22s, noted Little. However, defense officials believe that the F-22s currently deployed to Southwest Asia “can safely continue that deployment given the geography of the region,” he said. Third, Panetta wants the Air Force to brief him monthly on the progress it is making to determine the root cause of why some F-22 pilots have experienced hypoxia-like systems such as disorientation and dizziness in the cockpit. Little said Panetta “supports the measures taken so far by the Air Force” to address this issue, but he wanted the additional steps since “the safety of our pilots remains his first and foremost concern.” (Little-Kirby transcript)