You Can Breathe, Now

The Air Force believes it finally understands the cause of hypoxia-like issues affecting some F-22 pilots in the last several years, and is taking a “phased approach” to retrofitting hardware and getting flight restrictions lifted on the stealth jets, said outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz on July 24. At a Pentagon press conference to discuss his tenure as his Aug. 10 retirement looms, Schwartz said Air Force officials briefed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on July 20 on the new findings. Panetta, in turn, lifted some F-22 flight restrictions—enough to clear a squadron-sized group of F-22s to deploy from the United States to Kadena AB, Japan, “in the next few days,” said Schwartz. The Air Force has data ruling out any “contamination” of Raptor pilot oxygen and has fixed on faulty valve connections in the upper part of the Combat Edge full-body G-suit and a charcoal filter as the culprits in the hypoxia-like episodes, said Schwartz. Centrifuge and altitude-chamber tests have confirmed these findings, he added, explaining the problem as “the quantity, not the quality” of the air pilots are receiving. The filters have already been removed and the G-suit modifications will start entering service in September, said Schwartz. For the Japan deployment, Schwartz said the jets would follow the “northern island chain” route so they are never more than 90 minutes from a usable runway, and tankers accompanying them will carry enough fuel so that the F-22s could descend and fly at lower, less fuel-efficient altitudes, if necessary. Schwartz said the Air Force still has to go back to Panetta with a final report to get his “head nod” to resume unrestricted F-22 flying. (Schwartz transcript) (See also Little transcript)