Air Force officials breathed a sigh of relief Saturday as at least eight of the first 12 F-22s scheduled to deploy to Kadena Air Force Base, Japan, arrived safely with no reports of pilots suffering the hypoxia-like symptoms that have plagued F-22 pilots.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agreed to lift certain flight restrictions on F-22 operations to allow the deployment after Air Force leaders told him they had narrowed down the cause of the oxygen problems inside the cockpit. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz blamed the oxygen problems on a valve in the Combat Edge upper pressure garment vest and an air filter that was restricting oxygen volume.
Japanese media reported that eight of the 12 F-22s arrived at Kadena on Saturday. Defense Tech is still awaiting a call back from Air Force public affairs to confirm all 12 arrived safely.
The Air Force restricted the altitude the F-22s could fly from the U.S. to Japan to ensure the problems found with the altitude vest did not put the pilots in danger. Air Force leaders also chose a route that would ensure the pilots could land as quickly as can be expected when crossing the Pacific Ocean. At not point were the pilots more than a 90 minute flight from landing.
This is not the F-22's first deployment since the oxygen problems were identified in 2010. A squadron of F-22s deployed to the United Arab Emirates' Al Dafra Air Base in April. In both cases, Air Force leaders said the decision was made to deploy the F-22 even in the midst of the oxygen system uncertainties because they were needed.
"There’s an operational requirement, and the birds are ready to go," Schwartz said.
On Tuesday, the Air Force will release the results of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board's study into life support systems on the F-22. Analysts expect to receive more details into the service's investigation and find out more about the changes the Air Force plans to make to keep F-22 pilots safer.