Home / Robert Farley / If You Begin to Feel Faint, Please Land Your F-22 Raptor Immediately

If You Begin to Feel Faint, Please Land Your F-22 Raptor Immediately


John Boyd is rolling in his grave…

A U.S. Air Force scientific advisory board is urging the service to create specialized medical teams to focus on pilots with hypoxia-like symptoms and form a medical registry for F-22 pilots exposed to cabin air or on-board oxygen gas.

The set of recommendations are a part of the board’s study, which did not determine a root cause for the oxygen problems plaguing the fifth-generation fighter. The findings and recommendations were announced Thursday, two days after a Raptor pilot made an emergency landing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., because of hypoxia-like symptoms.

The advisory board study, which was directed by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley in June, found that the testing for the Raptor’s Life Support System and thermal management were insufficient, the F-22’s life support system does not automatically activate breathable air, and that contaminants have been measured in the breathing air.

The plane also has no mechanism to prevent the loss of the aircraft if a pilot is impaired and there is insufficient feedback to the pilot about the partial pressure of oxygen in the air. But the board could not identify what is causing the problems…

ACC has also implemented a “911 call” approach to flying the F-22, urging pilots to immediately land if something is not right, Lyon said.

See Stephen Trimble for an account of how this problem led to the loss of an F-22 over Alaska.

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  • Has anything good come out of the F-22 project? All I hear is how much money we’ve blown on a plane that seems to actively try to kill its pilots.

    • UberMitch

      They’re usually fun to fly in flight sims.

  • dp

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who knows who John Boyd was.

    • LKS

      Sometimes I think we could more use OODA around here.

  • Some Guy

    Color me stupid, but could they not just take an OBOGS from a flight platform that doesn’t try to kill pilots, and put it in the F-22? I realize this might make Honeywell sad, but surely there must be other reasons?

    Or maybe they could try putting the Oh Shit I Need Back Up Air ring in a better location. I recall reading somewhere that it’s current residence is notoriously hard to get to.

    • Robert Farley

      To my understanding one problem is that the cockpit is extremely small, which is one reason that the F-22 lacks some of the features of the F-35. Somebody explained to me the problem with replacing the air system, but I forget the details.

    • a noter of such things

      Yeah, actually the placement of that ring was pointed out as part of the probable cause of that crash. Pilot was wearing survival gear, had to stretch around to reach the ring, inadvertently put the jet into a roll.

  • Charlie Sweatpants

    Has there been any serious study given to the idea that airplanes of this complexity and desired capability (and I’d include the even more troubled F-35) are simply incapable of being built by our defense industry? I don’t mean physically incapable, I’m sure with enough money and bureaucratic bullying you could eventually produce something that can do everything you want while providing the proper amount of oxygen to the pilot. But at some point, one that appears to have long ago been passed in both cases, you’ve got a plane that is useless as a weapon because it’s simply too expensive to replace.

    At a quarter-of-a-billion per plane (or more), is there any risk we’d actually be willing to take with these things? If the Chinese attacked Taiwan (one of the few conceivable scenarios in which an F-22 would need most of its capabilities), how many of these things does the Pentagon expect it will lose, and at what rate? I’m sure that sort of thing was explored at the beginning of the project, but has it been explored since they started costing this much?

    • wengler

      F-16s would be used.

      You don’t risk new toys on silly things like warfare.

      • OldSchool

        Or in the case of this boondoggle POS F-22 Raptor built by Lockheed-Martin, You don’t risk silly new toys on things like warfare. Thinking about it, we don’t waste anything on warfare except in stoneage countries. REMEMBER the PUEBLO! Effing disgusting, and this POS is killing our pilots.

    • Bighank53

      Do you want to know what the real design goals of the F-22 were?

      1) Provide a steady revenue stream of tax dollars to the contractors building the aircraft, while
      2) delivering the minimum number of aircraft, thus
      3) maximizing profit, and
      4) providing significant opportunities for generals to land cushy post-retirement consulting gigs, and
      5) contain enough whiz-bang shit to give the ex-fighter jocks boners, so they’d fund it.

      • wengler

        Then this is surely the most successful project in the history of mankind.

      • cpinva

        which is exactly why i didn’t jump out of my seat, point my finger at rep. ryan and say, in a steady, firm voice: “have you no shame, at long last sir, have you no shame?” when he accused the pentagon of lying about its budget requirements for the upcoming fiscal year.

        ryan is an odious gasbag, but the generals/admirals haven’t exactly a long history of fiscal responsibility.

      • 1) Provide a steady revenue stream of tax dollars to the contractors building the aircraft,

        And those providing the REPLACEMENT PARTS.

        Make sure the MTBFs on certain proprietary pieces are…optimum… and you can increase your income considerably over the airframe’s lifetime.

        Am I making accusations here? Heavens, no. I won’t say it’s deliberate.

        Well….nobody wrote a MEMO, anyway.

    • Linnaeus

      Maybe the US needs to move to a low(er)-tech/easier maintenance fleet of combat aircraft rather than fewer and fewer of super-duper high-tech planes that crap out for various reasons.

      • LKS

        It’s possible that the F-22 is not high-tech enough. It was c.16 years from concept to the start or production, which was finally in 1997, and another c.6 years to get the first production unit out the door in 2003.

        I assume some retrofitting and upgrading has been done, but there are probably limits without throwing out the entire cockpit/avionics/weapons package and starting over again.

        • Barry

          “It’s possible that the F-22 is not high-tech enough. It was c.16 years from concept to the start or production, which was finally in 1997, and another c.6 years to get the first production unit out the door in 2003.”

          That’s odd, because I thought that aircraft had been using supplemental oxygen for generations now.

          • LKS

            But that’s assuming the OBOGS on the F-22 is similar enough to older technologies that no new failure points were introduced when it was “improved”. That may not be the case. It could be that its design deviates in critical ways from past proven technology.

            See also something I posted farther down about how it might not actually be the OBOGS that’s the root problem.

      • FMguru

        F-22/F-35 are probably the last of the big-budget US manned fighters. The next wave will be air superiority UAVs, possibly semi-autonomous.

        The squishy, fragile human pilot is already the main constraint on fighter performance, limiting such things as climbing and turning speed, airframe design, flight and loitering time, and oh yeah, the need to provide a functioning oxygen system.

      • Anonymous

        this has been tried, but they seem to morph into planes like the F-22

      • joe from Lowell

        The military discovers the wisdom of this statement anew every time it fights a war.

    • LKS

      At a quarter-of-a-billion per plane (or more), is there any risk we’d actually be willing to take with these things?

      It’s about $360m/plane if you average out the costs of the entire program over every unit delivered.

      But as those costs are already sunk, the actual cost of building additional ones is <$100m each.

      Not that we should, because the F-35 is cheaper and good enough, as well as exportable.

  • Sharon

    Ah, now I understand the surreal structure of the comments below. Can you ban this guy?

  • a noter of such things

    I read the AIB report, and the OBOGs failure wasn’t really the cause…the failure initiated a sequence of events that ended in the mishap, maybe (which is, perhaps, the definition of a cause?). But an inadvertent command input that wasn’t checked due to a breakdown in visual scan is what I would say was the cause.

    It’s potentially worth reading, anyway. Flying is hard and still dangerous. There are some other human factor issues that might be of interest to people who follow this sort of thing. It’s also pretty sad. Anyway.


    • Heron

      I sort of wonder if we’ve gotten to a point where we’re designing such high-performance planes that to even fly them in dangerous. Admittedly, with the F-22 the problems seem to be basic design flaws regarding most of its failures, but even with it we’re trying to hit so many, and such disparate, targets -small enough to easily evade radar, tough enough to carry big payloads, light enough to be maneuverable, super-sonic, medium-range- that I have to wonder if one of the reasons why it is so dangerous to fly is because of how much strain a pilot has to endure to get the most out of the craft.

      • LKS

        Today’s fighters are orders of magnitude safer than anything pre-Vietnam. That doesn’t mean that we should tolerate preventable pilot losses, of course. I do think, however, that the public perceives the risk to be much higher than it actually is, especially for USAF pilots, who don’t have to land on carrier decks in the middle of the night.

        • ajay

          Indeed. Remember the point Tom Wolfe makes at the start of The Right Stuff: that USAF fast-jet pilots in the 1950s had a 23% chance of dying in a crash at some point during their career, even setting aside the additional risks of combat service.

      • a noter of such things

        Yeah, like the other people have said, today’s planes are hugely safer than first-generation jets. A lot safer in general. A lot of that is through better avionics and pilot assistance. I’m reminded of how the first F-4’s required something like 9 discrete switch flips to select, cage, and fire the Sparrow. Switching between missiles and cannon (if they had one, of course) was an equally intensive process. Easier to see how accidents can happen if you have to take your hands off the controls and root around int the cockpit for some little dials when you’re zooming around near Mach 1.

        The problem of multiple requirements is sort of the basis of engineering, isn’t it? There’s rarely a perfect design. You have to pick your metrics (often competing), and figure out how to balance them. Designing planes is even worse, because a lot of times the aerodynamics of different flight domains will conflict.

        Then again, the F-22 will never be as much of a turkey as the F-111. Although the Australians seem to like it.

  • Heron

    What I find really funny about this is that Anon is likely a Conservative, and for the last 3 years Cons have been falling over themselves in orgasmic glee every time Putin has held one of his Super Manly Presidential Photo Ops. It was weird enough watching them gush about Shrub and his unsettling predilection for cod-pieces, but watching them spend THREE YEARS give a genuine murderous anti-democratic dictator the same treatment just so they can make snide comments about how Obama isn’t a “real man” was too just too much hypocrisy for even a jaded politics nerd such as myself.

    • Heron

      oops; looks like Anon got his post deleted. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy :p

    • wengler

      They like a politician manly enough to blow up his own people in the name of destroying democracy.

  • joe from Lowell

    Side effects include light-headedness, nausea, and bloating of the budget. Call your doctor if an erection last more than four fiscal years. If you begin to feel faint, please land your F-22 immediately. Only your lobbyist can tell you if the F-22 is right for you.

    • LKS

      It pains me to do this but….


  • joejoejoe

    It would be cheaper to engineer humans who breathe something other than oxygen. Where’s James Cameron when you need him? I remember aquanauts breathing some kind of blue fluid in The Abyss.

    • heckblazer

      That was an oxygenated fluorocarbon liquid, and it’s real stuff. They shot the scene where the rat was submerged in it and breathing liquid by submerging a live rat in it and having it breathe liquid.

      Here’s the requisite Wikipedia article:


      • ajay

        I was sure I’d seen that as well, then I got the DVD and all you see is reaction shots, so I spent years thinking I’d fabulated the memory of seeing it. Then I checked: they stripped the scene out of the UK version…

    • Halloween Jack

      That would be the same James Cameron who just went to the very bottom of the world in a privately-funded craft with an oxygen system that worked just fine. In a few months, Red Bull is going to pay a professional skydiver to break another half-century-plus record by diving from 120,000 feet, and although there’s some danger involved (he will probably become the first person to break the speed of sound without being in some sort of vehicle), the oxygen system in his capsule has been tested and seems to be working fine.

      Red Bull and the director of Avatar. FFS.

  • Brutusettu

    This is another reason why the A-10 is still the biblical choice for best aircraft ever. Rick Santorum and Jerry Boykin have my back on this.

  • Jaime

    Pilot oxygen system issues? Really? Haven’t fighter aircraft used these things for over half a century? You’d think that would be one of the most mature technologies of all in a modern fighter. If even close to accurate, it’s just nuts. This isn’t related to that bends craziness that’s seemingly becoming endemic among U2 pilots, is it? Or is that deal related to using an actual pressure suit?

    • LKS

      It might not be the OGS per se.

      In the case of the Alaska crash, the problem wasn’t a failure of the OGS but (a) a probably unnecessary automatic shutdown of the OGS triggered by a probably false reading of engine air bleed; and (b) the apparent inability of the pilot to trigger the backup system due to poor ergonomics.

      The evidence suggests that at least some OGS failures are actually automated shutdowns, which suggests faulty sensors and/or programming. I’m using “suggests” because no one really knows. They do know that they take the OGS apart after every incident and can’t find anything wrong with it, or so they tell us.

  • Jaime

    Another thought occurs – there’s only one squadron of operational F-22s, right? Could it be a matter of, not the oxygen system itself, but massive incompetence / insufficient training on the part of the maintenance guys? So it’s not necessarily a problem with the systems, but the people around it.

    • If it was something Ops or the contractors could blame on Maintenance, it would have been discovered lonnnnng since. Trust me on this.


      Former USAF Jet Mech

  • cpinva

    equipment designed for use in combat is inherently dangerous; they are built for war, not safety. safety is obviously a big consideration(having your pilot/crewmen die makes it harder to use the platform successfully), but it isn’t no. 1 on the hit parade. getting the armaments to the field of battle, in the shortest time possible, is the primary consideration, and everything is designed around that. add the amazing complexity of modern, war fighting planes, with the multiple roles they play, and it’s astonishing that there aren’t more accidents.

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