The F-22 fighter is the premiere air superiority
fighter in the Air Force arsenal. The aircraft has been on stand-down status after
the USAF ordered an investigation into the possibility that there is an issue
with the aircraft's on-boards oxygen generation system. Deliveries of the
remaining F-22 aircraft that were ordered are now at a halt and no new aircraft
can be flight-tested.
Lockheed Martin continues
to build the aircraft and the stores them in "near flight ready"
status and minus their all-important radar absorbent coatings. The aircraft
have to undergo a certain number of test flights only clad in primer before the
stealth coatings can be applied.
Since the aircraft are effectively grounded,
Lockheed is unable to deliver the aircraft for their final flight tests to be
accepted into the Air Force arsenal. The Pentagon Defense Contract Management
Agency must fly a series of acceptance flights before the aircraft is accepted.
Lockheed spokeswoman Stephanie Stinn said,
"Our final assembly is scheduled through December 2011. That is still
ongoing at Marietta. We delivered aircraft 4181, and that was on June 22, to
the Air Force, so they have that as their aircraft. After that aircraft, we
can't do the required acceptance flights."
There are four aircraft sitting in storage at
Lockheed that have technically been accepted by the Air Force, but the jets
can’t be flown to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia for final delivery.
The investigation into the oxygen generation
system that resulted in the stand
down of the F-22 was instituted in May. The investigation was then expanded
to cover other aircraft like the A-10, F-15E, F-16, F-22, F-35, and T-6. Those other
aircraft, however, are not in stand down mode. The stand down restricts all
F-22 aircraft from operating except for a few F-22s flown by test pilots operating
out of Edwards AFB in California that operate under a waiver. The Air Force
hasn't said what exactly those test pilots are flying the aircraft for.
While the F-22 is grounded, pilots are trying to
stay current with the aircraft using simulators. Air Force spokeswoman Capt.
Jennifer Ferrau said, "Pilots and ground crew continue to train in
simulators and perform ground tasks to stay as proficient as possible. Once the
aircraft are cleared to fly again, there will be a period where the pilots will
need in-flight training to become fully proficient on the aspects of flying
that simulators cannot replicate. Some live flight is required for high-G
maneuvering flight, a true outside visual, and in-flight decision-making in a
dynamic environment where simulators are lacking."