The Air Force's fleet of F-22 super-jets has been grounded for more than two months now, but service officials had no details Friday about when the F-22s may fly again or even when engineers could finish the investigation into the fighters' onboard oxygen systems.
"The safety of our airmen is paramount and we will take the necessary time to ensure we perform a thorough investigation," said Master Sgt. Pamela Anderson, a spokeswoman for Air Combat Command.
Anderson told Buzz that when the grounding is lifted, there may be a bow wave in optempo for F-22 units -- Buzz's phrase, not hers -- as everyone involved gets re-qualified on their jobs under operational conditions, as opposed to working with simulators or static aircraft.
"Pilots and ground crew continue to train in simulators and perform ground tasks to stay as proficient as possible," she said. "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."
The F-22s could take off if they absolutely had to, the Air Force says -- Anderson said the jet "remains available for national security-directed missions" -- meaning that if the balloon went up on a World War III-type situation, the fighters and their crews might have to chance it in combat even if engineers didn't have a permanent fix for their oxygen problems.
Meanwhile, as John wrote this weekend at Defense Tech, this grounding is not only affecting the Air Force's stockpile of F-22s, it means Lockheed has had to stop delivering new aircraft, too.