Air Force leaders admitted to Congress Thursday the service was wrong not to immediately install a backup oxygen system and is only now getting around to making fixes to the F-22's oxygen schedule recommended in 2005.
The Air Force has spent the past two years trying to determine why their F-22 pilots suffer hypoxia-like symptoms in flight with many reporting feeling light-headed, weak and nauseous. Service officials have repeatedly grounded the F-22 fleet as the fifth generation fighter still flies under altitude and distance restrictions because of fears for pilots' safety.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Charlie Lyon, Air Combat Command’s director of operations, Clinton Cragg, principal engineer at NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center, and retired Air Force Gen. Gregory Martin, head of Air Force Scientific Advisory Board study on the F-22's problems, each testified before Congress on the steps the Air Force has taken to make the F-22 safer. Cragg joined the hearing because NASA, along with the Navy and Marine Corps, has aided the Air Force in its research.
Air Force leaders had declared that they have identified a the culprits causing the problems for pilots to include the breathing regulator/anti-g (BRAG) valve on the Combat Edge upper pressure garment. The Air Force is replacing the valve, installing a new back-up oxygen system and changing the oxygen schedule for the F-22's onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS).
Engineers and scientists had recommended the Air Force change the oxygen schedule for the OBOGS in 2005. The Air Force chose not to. The changes being made now are more comprehensive, Lyon said.
Martin also told Congress the Air Force should have installed a back up oxygen system. Original designs for the F-22 included the back up system, but they were scrapped in order to save weight.
"In retrospect, that was not an appropriate decision," Martin said.
The Air Force expects to have the first back up oxygen systems installed by January and finish the install to the rest of the fleet by 2014.
At the beginning of the Air Force's investigation into the F-22, officials suspected the breathing problems were caused by toxins getting into the cockpit. Cragg said his NASA scientists agreed with the Air Force's conclusion that this was not the case.
Martin made a pitch during the hearing to Congress to re-invest in the Air Force's human systems integration program. He said some of the problems found in the investigation of the F-22's oxygen system could have been caught earlier. He blamed down sizing of the military in the 1990s.
“Flight medicine, aviation physiology, and research and development atrophied significantly in those years, at the time the airplane was going into a different environment,” Martin said. “All the people that would normally have done the testing and evaluation and all the things we do to learn about those environments were no longer in the military, no longer in our civilian workforce.”
-- Bryant Jordan contributed to this report.