F-22 Raptor Advisory Board Announces Findings
By Mitch Gettle
Air Force Public Affairs Agency
WASHINGTON, March 30, 2012 Air Force leaders provided an update on the service’s Scientific Advisory Board study into F-22 Raptor aircraft life support systems and flight operations during a Pentagon briefing yesterday.
Retired Air Force Gen. Gregory Martin, an aviator and a former commander of two major commands, chaired the nine-member SAB team which studied the F-22’s onboard oxygen generation systems and briefed its findings and recommendations in trying to determine a reason why some people have experienced unexplained physiological events while piloting the aircraft.
“From April 2008 until May 2011, the Air Force experienced 14 physiological incidents with the fleet of F-22s,” Martin said. “Each incident was investigated, and of those incidents, 10 did not reveal a root cause.”
It was the unexplained nature of those incidents that gave the Air Force concern and led Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley to ask for a broad area review which the SAB conducted, he added.
“We were unable to determine a root cause, but we were able to put in place the proper safety measures and risk mitigation techniques that would allow the F-22 fleet to return to fly … to ensure the integrity of the life support system,” Martin said. “We went from ground test to flight test to a return-to-fly phase, and moving into a transition phase.”
The advisory board made nine findings and 14 recommendations based on a seven-month study of the F-22’s evolution -- from conception and acquisition through current flight operations -- which the Air Force can use to move forward.
Martin said the board’s findings and recommendations fall into three areas: acquisition processes and policies, organizational structure recommendations, and equipment recommendations to not only protect the pilots and crew members today but also in the future.
“Some of the things we recommended give us a much better understating of the pilots’ performance in those environments that we have not operated in before,” Martin said. “It will further our understanding of the aviation physiology of operating in that environment.”
Air Force leaders remain steadfast that the F-22 is a fully combat capable aircraft and they have every confidence in its current and future performance.
“Since September of last year we’ve flown over 10,000 sorties,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, Air Combat Command’s director of operations. “We’ve had a 99.9 percent effective flying rate relative to physiological incidents, but that is not good enough.
“We will not rest. We will not stop,” Lyon continued. “We will not end this journey we are on until we carry that 99 percent decimal point to the farthest right that we can.”
The Air Force is well into the implementation phase of the recommendations from the SAB team, he said, and continues to aggressively pursue the cause of these unexplained incidents.
“Let there be no doubt, that safety is paramount to the men and women who operate [the F-22] and the commanders who command them,” Lyon said. “When we wear this uniform there is risk, there is risk inherent in aviation and risk inherently in conducting military operations.
Pilot safety has and always will remain a priority, Lyon added.
“We have instructed and talked to our members in the field,” Lyon said. “Whenever you get any indication that something may not be right … terminate the flight. All eyes are focused on you and the safe recovery of your aircraft.”
When a physiological event occurs, the pilot is met by a medical team that provides immediate care, he said. Additional tests are taken, he added, and sent to the laboratory.
“And so far, nothing remarkable has come back from the [F-22 pilot] lab tests we’ve analyzed,” Lyon said. “When it comes to safety, no one second-guesses the pilot.”
The F-22 is a fifth-generation fighter and one that is needed for the United States to establish air superiority in today’s and tomorrow’s conflict’s, said Maj. Gen. Noel “Tom” Jones, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements.
The F-22 “is the leading edge of technology,” Jones said, “and if our nation needs a capability to enter contested airspace to deal with air forces that are trying to deny our forces the ability to maneuver without prejudice on the ground, it will be the F-22 that takes on that mission.”