Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, Air Force officials decided: Commanders temporarily lifted the grounding of the F-22 Raptors to permit the super-jets to escape from Langley Air Force Base, Va., on Friday before the arrival of Hurricane Irene, according to Air Force Magazine's Daily Report. Pilots ferried their airplanes to Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind., well inland and safe from the storm. When commanders at Langley decide it's safe for them to return, the F-22s will be authorized to fly back. Then the grounding will go back into effect. Langley's 1st Fighter Wing has about 40 Raptors.
Friday's flight authorization only applied to Langley's F-22s; the rest of the Air Force's fleet stayed grounded.
The F-22s have been grounded since May after Air Force officials discovered problems with their onboard oxygen generating systems, which may have been poisoning fighter pilots with contaminated breathing air. Although the Air Force says the Raptors would be available in case of a major national emergency, units' day-to-day training regimen has ground to a halt. Pilots can't get time in the air, crews can only fix a stationary jet so many times, and everyone in the Raptor business is losing their currency amid the grounding.
Air Force officials say they'll let the F-22s fly again for good when they've come up with a permanent fix for the problems with their onboard oxygen systems. It wasn't immediately clear whether the Raptor pilots who flew out of Langley on Friday had speed, altitude or other restrictions to keep on the safe side of known operating margins; before the grounding, the Air Force ordered Raptor pilots to keep below 25,000 feet after an F-22 crashed last year in Alaska.