grounding of the USAF F-22 Raptor fleet has dragged on for months as the investigation
into what caused issues with the onboard oxygen generation system were
investigated. At this point, there is still no clear answer on what gave
multiple pilots hypoxia-like symptoms during flights. Affected pilots in
several instances were found to have toxins in their blood.
Last week, reports indicated that USAF chief Gen. Norton Schwartz would be given options to grant flight
status back to the F-22 fleet. Schwartz has approved a plan that will allow the
160 F-22 aircraft in the fleet to fly above 50,000 feet according to Defense News. The Raptor has a
support systems will be inspected daily on all of the aircraft, and all the
systems will be extensively inspected before any of the jets take to the skies.
The plan also calls for F-22 pilots to undergo physiological tests and to have
additional protective equipment when they fly. Exactly what the extra equipment
would be is unknown.
"We now have enough insight from recent studies and investigations that a
return to flight is prudent and appropriate," Schwartz said. "We're
managing the risks with our aircrews, and we're continuing to study the F-22's
oxygen systems and collect data to improve its performance."
As the F-22 fleet is preparing to return to the skies, the long-delayed and over
budget F-35 fighter is again under pressure. USAF Secretary Michael
Donley pledged support to the F-35 on September 19. However, with budget cuts
coming and Washington looking for everything they can find to cut costs, Donley
didn’t offer answers to what functionalities on the F-35 the USAF would be willing
to lose to bring the cost of the fighters down.
Donley said that it would be difficult to eliminate core functionality from the
program. "There are 12 core functions in the Air Force, there are none
that we can just jettison," Donley said. "Each of those core
functions is performing an important mission not just for the Air Force but the
Lockheed Martin says that as of now the F-35B STOVL version of the fighter is
ahead on flight testing slightly and will be heading to sea trials in the first
week of October if all goes as planned. The carrier-based F-35C will start sea
trials next spring according to officials.