All right, ladies and gentlemen. It's my privilege today to welcome General (Retired) Gregory Martin, chair of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; Major General Noel Jones, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements; and Major General Charlie Lyon, Air Combat Command’s director of operations.
The gentlemen on this panel represent nearly 12,000 flight hours in Air Force aircraft, an extraordinary depth of experience to discuss the F-22 study and the way ahead. They're here to provide an update on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board study into life support systems installed on the F-22 and to discuss F-22 operations since flight resumed in September of 2011.
Major General Jones.
MAJOR GENERAL NOEL T. JONES: Thank, Jay.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Thanks for joining us here.
Today's update is on an issue of great importance to our Air Force and you, the media: the progress of the Air Force's Scientific Advisory Board study on F-22 oxygen generation system.
We understand your interest. We agree with the attention that it's received. We hope that today's session will satisfactorily address your questions.
Our F-22 aircraft and the people who fly and maintain them are our national treasure. No other aircraft can match the F-22's combination of speed, stealth and maneuverability. Its integrated avionics enable it to operate and survive in high-threat environments. Simply put, there is no other fighter in the world that can do what it does, and this airplane's capability is crucial to our national security, now and well into the future.
Last year we determined that F-22 pilots were having unexplained in-flight physiological events at an unacceptable rate, and we took action. Secretary of the Air Force Donley asked the Scientific Advisory Board to conduct a study of the aircraft's oxygen generation system, and some of the best minds in our nation were assigned to this task, including scientists, engineers and medical professionals. They were led by Air Force General (Retired) Greg Martin, whom we are fortunate to have with us today.
This team worked together for seven months investigating the incidents and the aircraft. General Martin recently briefed the secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force on their findings and offered a list of recommendations for the Air Force to consider as we move forward.
These findings and recommendations are available in your media packet, and General Martin will explain them to you in further detail today.
GENERAL GREGORY MARTIN (RET.): Thank you. Thank you all for being here and giving us the opportunity to share with you some of the insights and lessons that we learned as we went through this event.
I was the chair of the study that the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board did, known as the Study on Aircraft Oxygen Generation Systems. I'm not the chair of the Air Force Scientific Advisory board, but rather was the chair of that study. And what I'll do is lay out the foundation of that study and its formation, a little bit about its process, some about the recommendations, but I think you have in your press package there the complete listing of findings and recommendations, so I won't go through each of those with you.
First of all, with respect to the formation of the Air Force Scientific Advisory board, from 2008, actually April of 2008 until May of 2010, the Air Force experienced 14 physiological incidents with the fleet of F-22s. Each of those incidents was thoroughly investigated through the normal Air Force safety and investigation processes.
But of those incidents, 10, as a result of the investigations done, did not reveal a root cause. And that -- the point that General Jones mentioned -- was what concerned the Air Force.
Now, in terms of numbers at that -- at the time of that last incident, the 14th incident last May, the Air Force had flown about a 100,000 hours in the F-22 fleet. So that equates to one unexplained incident about every 10,000 hours, or about every 9,000 sorties. So that gives you an appreciation for how often an event might occur.
Nonetheless, although those are relatively low numbers, it was the unexplained nature of those incidents that caused the Air Force some amount of concern and to establish a broad area review that the Scientific Advisory Board took on.
Now, leading up to that charter for the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, in January of 2010, as a result of the incidents that had occurred up to that point, a special Class E safety investigation board was commissioned by the Air Combat Command. And major general at that time, now Lieutenant General Steve Hoog ran that team. And he put together what I would consider to be, in that safety investigation board, the nucleus of the team that we worked with throughout our seven months to try and get to the bottom of the root causes for those incidents.
In the May time frame as General Hoog was presenting his update brief to the chief and to the secretary and to the commander of Air Combat Command, the Air Force experienced three physiological incidents in the F-22 between the last couple of days of April and the first three days of May and at that point chose to ground the fleet.
It was also at that time that General Hoog, based on the investigations that he had run and the tests that -- primarily ground tests -- and very, very significant protocols of ground tests for the entire life support system of the aircraft -- it was his recommendation to the Chief and Secretary that they establish a broad area review team to look at things besides just the F-22 life support system as it is, but rather how it got -- how it was developed, what decisions were made that led to some of the incidents that perhaps had occurred and also to ensure that we better understood not just the F- 22 onboard oxygen generation system and life support system, but also to take a look at the other aircraft that use the onboard oxygen generation systems, to determine if there were some lessons learned from the F-22 that would apply with those aircraft as well.
As a result of that recommendation, the Chief and Secretary chartered the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to take that study on, and the study was listed as the aircraft onboard generation system. The charter was developed, and in June of 2010 the team formed. At that time I was asked to chair it, which I did. And I then formed a team. We had nine members on the team. We can go into details on each of those people if you would like to later.
And I won't read the charter, but I will tell you that there were three main thrusts in it. There were several tasks given, but three main thrusts.
One was, determine the causes of the F-22 physiological incidents and how to safely return the F-22 to normal operations, because as a result of those three incidents that occurred the end of April and early May, the F-22 fleet was grounded; then understand the circumstances that may have led the F-22 to experience an unusually high rate of unexplained physiological incidents and make appropriate recommendation to preclude similar circumstances in the future; and then review the other aircraft, as I mentioned, using onboard oxygen generation systems, to determine if there are some lessons learned that they could benefit from. So that's really the gist of the charter.
At that point, as I mentioned, we had nine members that joined the team, but we worked hand in hand with the ongoing Safety Investigation Board, which is a formal Air Force process for investigation. The Scientific Advisory Board does not normally get involved with ongoing activities. They usually take a longer-term perspective from a science and technology perspective, but they also have resident on the board, as well as access to, some of the greatest minds in this nation to work problems. We were asked to do not only a longer-term perspective in terms of policies and organizations and procedures, but also determining a root cause.
We were able to work not only with the Scientific Advisory Board but with the System Program Office, the F-22 System Program Office; the Air Combat Command, which we'll hear more about here in a few moments; the Air Staff, the major commands in the Air Force; as well as the Navy, who uses onboard oxygen generation systems as well in several of its aircraft; and what I would consider to be a completely collaborative relationship with the primary equipment manufacturers -- in this case Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Honeywell -- all of whom were, in my view, totally focused on providing the people we needed and the assets we needed to try and get to the bottom of the problem.
Now we also took the results of the ground tests that General Hoog and his team had run and his recommendations for dynamic airborne tests, because some of the things that were occurring in the aircraft, in the incidents, happened in the air, could not be repeated on the ground, and during the -- what I would say is very extensive challenge tests to the life support system and particularly the onboard oxygen generation system, they believed that they needed to specially instrument an F-22 and get it in the air to determine whether we could find repeats of some of the incidents that had occurred and help us get the root cause.
So we took their basic results from the ground tests and their recommendations for the flight tests, worked through those in great detail and established a flight test series of not only profiles but protocols for measuring the system. And we had, as -- if you were to see the picture, over 40 sensor installations on that airplane to try and understand the entire end-to-end process of producing oxygen for the pilot.
As a result of General Hoog’s work and our initial look at the data, as well as the design of the flight testing, I would say two things were important here. One, we developed a series of hypotheses and they could be broken down into two main hypotheses. One, for some reason, the onboard oxygen generation system is not producing enough oxygen for the circumstance that the -- that the pilot finds himself in at that moment -- so a lack of production -- or second, for some reason, the onboard oxygen generation system and the environmental control system that feeds it, the air that it then produces the oxygen from, may be inputting some contaminant that is getting through the onboard oxygen generation system and perhaps denying the pilot of normal function or the ability to absorb oxygen at a normal rate.
So those were the two basic hypotheses. Each of them had five and in one case six sub hypotheses, all of which helped us structure the testing and ultimately the procedures that we would use to return the aircraft to fly.
So we also knew from the statisticians at that time that given the history of physiological incidents in the aircraft that a flight test profile of 14 sorties, including all of the sensors, including all of the testing that went on on the ground post-flight, we would be unlikely, according to the statistics, to actually have a physiological incident present itself or the conditions that might result in a physiological incident. We were unlikely to have that case in those 14 sorties.
Nonetheless, we knew that as a result of those sensors that we were probably going to understand the system better and some of its vulnerabilities, and that would then lay the groundwork for the kinds of things that we could do to the entire fleet and provisions that we could provide to both the crew chiefs that would be doing ground engine runs and the pilots that would be flying the aircraft that would make it safe for them to return to fly while we continued to gather data and better understand what the root cause might be.
So in -- at the end of the flight tests, as we -- as we determined, we were unable to have the root cause determined. We were able to, in my view, put in place the proper safety measures and risk mitigation techniques that would allow the F-22 fleet to return to fly at a much greater rate while we were continuing to collect data from the systems that we put on the pilot and in the aircraft and the protocols that we put in place to ensure the integrity of the life support system.
So that -- we went from ground test to flight test to what we call return-to-fly phase, and the fleet is still in the return-to-fly phase and moving into, as General Lyon will talk about, a transition phase. All right.
Despite those efforts, though, we do not have this day the root cause in hand. We have some pretty good ideas and we have a series of tests that the Scientific Advisory Board believe were necessary to continue to explore the envelopes of the system and to understand it completely. And the stand-up of that activity -- or the continuation of that activity is being managed by General Lyon and his task force that was recommended by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to stand up in September and begin the process of collecting the data, analyzing the data and determining other mitigation activities as appropriate for the fleet. Those are ongoing today.
Now when we get to the findings and recommendations of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, I will not read them to you -- as I mentioned, you have them -- but I will tell you they break down into three main areas. One deals with policies and procedures, usually a higher level, if you will, than at the tactical level, in terms of our acquisition processes, our acquisition policies. They are also in an organizational and -- structure of our organization, those recommendations.
And then last are equipment recommendations set up to not only protect the pilots and crew members today, but also give us the kind of information we'll need as we get to the root cause, which I'm sure we'll find eventually. But also, as we go through that process some of those equipment recommendations will probably remain, because the F-22, as General Jones indicated, is a very unusual airplane in terms of its capabilities.
There is nothing else like it. And it is operating in environments that we have not typically operated our aircraft in, and in those -- in that type of an environment.
And so some of the things that we have recommended give us a much better understanding of the pilot's performance in those environments that we have not operated in before, and it's a good thing to know, not only for the pilot to know, but for us to know, because it will further, in my view, our understanding of the aviation physiology aspects of operating in that environment, which we frankly are not as aware of as we should have been in our recommendations put in place, a mechanism by which we will become much more conversant in that area.
With that in mind, I'll turn it over to General Lyon, and he can talk about the ongoing flying activities and the task force efforts that he is leading.
MAJOR GENERAL CHARLES LYON: Thanks, General Martin.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I am Major General Charlie Lyon, the director of operations from Air Combat Command. Our role at Air Combat Command is to provide mission-ready forces, to conduct operations, in this specific case, F-22s flying air superiority missions in support of our combatant commanders across the globe.
Last summer I returned from a tour of duty as the commander of Air Force forces in Afghanistan as we're in the midst of the stand- down. I was asked as the summer ended to get involved, to become a part of this effort by General Martin and others to prepare to return to fly the F-22 fleet.
I'm happy to report that since September of last year we've flown over 10,000 sorties. That's a lot of sorties in a short amount of time.
The F-22 provides unrivaled, unmatched capabilities to protect our friendly forces on the ground and at sea and to reassure our allies across the globe.
Our task force. Our task force consists of members from inside the government, across different commands, different disciplines and also with members of industry. We're a collaborative effort.
Data is shared from every investigation board, every advisory board. Every source is sharing data to get to the root cause.
We're implementing the recommendations given to us by General Martin's group and others, and we continue aggressively to pursue the root cause of these unexplained incidents.
Let there be no doubt that safety is paramount to the men and women who operate it and to the commanders who command them, and those senior officers like myself. But when we wear this uniform, there is risk. There's risk inherent in aviation, the risk inherently in conducting military operations.
We have a motto at Air Combat Command: People first, mission always.
As we return to fly, I was and continue to be confident in the safety of this aircraft, because it is the people, the sons and daughters of America moms and fathers, that we put in these aircraft in the air and on the ground every day to operate them, to conduct the missions that the nation asks us to do.
So we're well into the implementation phase, well over 10,000 sorties. The incident rate related to these subjects is 0.1 percent. Let me say that differently. We've had a 99.9 percent effective flying rate.
But that's not good enough. We will not rest, we will not stop, we will not end this journey that we're on until we carry that 99 to the farthest right decimal point we can.
That concludes my opening remarks.
LT. COL. DORRIAN: OK, ladies and gentlemen, we'll go ahead and take some questions.
Q: Michael Hoffman with military.com. I just wanted to ask -- and this question is for General Lyon here -- with the future use of the F-22, two questions: Is there a ceiling right now in terms of altitude for flying the F-22? And as well, are F-22 flying alert missions right now -- or sitting alert, excuse me, in places like Alaska and other places in the U.S.?
GEN. LYON: Yeah, thanks for your question. The F-22, as General Martin alluded to earlier, has an operating envelope that exceeds that of any other fighter aircraft we've ever produced. We are operating in that envelope that exceeds what we do with any current aircraft in our inventory.
In terms of sitting alert, our F-22s have sat airspace control alert for homeland defense missions. They're currently sitting within the continental United States, with the lower 48, if you will. We also use other aircraft. We use F-16s; we use F-15s. We use as many aircraft as required to meet the northern commander -- Northern Command commander's needs. And so it's not uncommon to see us use a variety of aircraft to fulfill that mission.
Q: All right, just so I'm clear, it's not -- it doesn't have any altitude restrictions right now in the -- within the F-22's envelope? And it is flying -- it is sitting alert missions right now?
GEN. LYON: It is sitting alert missions today.
Q: And there's no -- and there's no restrictions in terms of altitude for the F-22, right? No? Yeah?
GEN. LYON: I am not going to get into a detail of some of the operational capabilities of this aircraft in this forum, but I can tell you that it is operating in an envelope that expands and goes beyond that of any other fighter aircraft that we have today.
LT. COL. DORRIAN: Larry.
Q: Well, if I could follow up on that --
LT. COL. DORRIAN: Hold up.
Q: Yeah, I'd like to follow -- I'd like to follow up. Jim Miklaszewski, NBC. Without getting into classified information, like, can you help us understand what's so different about the pilot -- the environment that the pilot is in in an F-22 that essentially, particularly in the case of the oxygen generator, increases the risk to the pilot?
I mean, what is so different about this aircraft in terms of the pilot's environment?
GEN. MARTIN: Let me, if I could, Jim, talk a little bit about that. As I came on active duty in 1970, I, along with all pilots, go through a physiological training course that's required every three years, and we try and understand the effect of altitude and day and night nourishment and all of that on the body's ability to operate in the aviation arena.
And we do everything we can to try and make that aircraft as close to the atmosphere that they're used on the ground. But the fact is, as we go up in altitude, for combat aircraft, we maintain a pressure differential between the outside air and the cockpit air of an amount that, should there be combat damage, the cockpit doesn't explode.
You know, in an airline you stay at 8,000 feet. As we get into a fighter aircraft, it begins to go up to maintain a 5 PSI (per square inch) pressure differential, so that you won't have a catastrophic explosion during a rapid decompression.
And all those years we sort of a drew a line in the sky that said at 50,000 feet, we will not fly above that altitude without a pressure suit on, because a rapid decompression could cause the evacuation of air from your lungs and the cockpit at a rate that you could not survive without having a pressure suit.
This airplane flies routinely above 50,000 feet. We have a partial pressure suit. And so we have in our life support, in our life-sustaining system, a capability for that pilot to survive a rapid decompression.
Our service ceiling is classified, but it is above 50,000 feet. And our aircraft today are operating above 50,000 feet, OK, to answer your question. But it's not so much the environment of the cockpit as the potential should the pressure -- should rapid decompression occur that cause our restrictions, all right?
Now I will also tell you, though, that at 50,000 feet your cabin pressure is around twenty to 22,000 feet, so you must use supplemental oxygen or a high percentage of oxygen. Just as you would if you were mountain climbing, you know, up into Mount Everest or whatever, they're using supplemental oxygen.
Q: But has that operating environment contributed to the flaws or malfunctions of the oxygen generation system? Is that what you haven't been able to determine?
GEN. MARTIN: If we look at the incidents, what we'll find is we've actually had a series of hypoxia-like incidents or physiological incidents below the altitude at which we would expect to see them, and that's 25,000 feet or below. We have seen those incidents in an area where you would not expect them. But we don't have the root cause for why that is. We have some pretty good assessments and we have some pretty good tests that are being worked right now, but we don't have the answer.
LT. COL. DORRIAN: Larry.
GEN. MARTIN: So it's not up in that altitude. These incidents have not always -- we've had some at high altitude, but we've had some at altitudes that you would not have expected -- as have other aircraft, by the way, not just the F-22.
Q: General, for someone who is not a pilot and not a doctor, can you describe what you mean by physiological incidents in layman's terms?
Also, how many of these incidents have led to crashes of F-22s and how many pilots and/or people on the ground have been killed in these incidents?
GEN. MARTIN: First of all, a physiological incident is usually identified by the crew member, usually recognized by the crew member as a result of the training, where we actually train someone to see what would happen if they began to not get the oxygen they needed, which we actually train to that on the ground.
We have altitude chambers that we take people up, and they take their masks off, and they begin to see that their color acuity goes down; they begin to get lightheaded; they begin to feel perhaps a little woozy, a headache or something like that.
So they all understand what their symptoms are. And a physiological incident then is a condition where the pilot recognizes that something is not working exactly right with respect to his ability to understand the environment, control the aircraft or his sense of normalcy. So that's an incident. And they can -- they can manifest themselves in many different ways.
So we've -- because of our concern about the presentation of oxygen and the right pressure to the pilot at the right time, we have tried our very best to make sure that they understand that there may be a condition that they should be aware of; we've given them the indicators to help them understand the performance of their body. And if they feel different or see some reading that doesn't make sense, they will declare an emergency, they will use their emergency oxygen, they will come in and land, and that is a physiological incident.
And your second part of the question?
Q: The number of crashes and/or deaths?
GEN. MARTIN: There have been none. There have been none. We have had -- with respect to an oxygen failure system, there have been no crashes and no loss of life due to the loss of oxygen to the pilot.
Q: With all due respect, isn't that being reviewed in the case of Captain Jeff Haney?
GEN. MARTIN: No, I would say that the Accident Investigation Board has completed its work, and their findings and recommendations indicated it was not the lack of oxygen. Now, that is being reviewed.
Q: So that file is under investigation, is it not?
GEN. MARTIN: I understand that. I understand that's true.
GEN. LYON: I'd like to be clear on that loss of Captain Haney. It's a tragic loss. The loss of any of our fellow airmen we take very seriously. They're a member of our extended Air Force family -- just as a loss of anyone who serves in uniform.
The Accident Investigation Board looked into the -- into the conditions surrounding that evening of 26 November 2010. They've looked at it in great detail. In fact, we waited until the summer thaw came in Alaska to be able to recover additional equipment, which gave that board more insight.
When faced with a complex emergency procedure at night, Captain Haney was unable to maintain aircraft control and impacted the terrain. That incident, that accident and other things which have been reported -- because we have a culture of safety in the United States Air Force, of reporting when things don't go as they should be -- and as General Martin said, we train to these hypoxia-like symptoms on the ground. It was one of the first things I did when I went to pilot training 31 years ago, before I ever set foot in a simulator or an aircraft. We went to the altitude chamber and learned about physiology, what happens to your body, before you go in flight.
So we have this culture in our Air Force where we expect that our pilots will let us know if something is not quite right. And then we convene these investigative boards. And that's what we've done. And that's what the Scientific Advisory, the study group that General Martin led, has really helped us with is to look at this in a -- in a very detailed manner over a significant amount of time.
Q: So you're convinced that the investigative board that found that the cause of that crash that killed Captain Haney was due to pilot error? Are you convinced of that?
GEN. LYON: The board found that he was unable to maintain aircraft control on that night when faced with a very complex situation.
Q: And you agree with that finding?
GEN. LYON: Yes.
LT. COL. DORRIAN: Lee.
Q: Lee Ferran with ABC News. About Haney's crash, an investigation report said that Haney likely did not experience hypoxia. How was -- how were you all able to determine that, particularly considering, you know, no toxicology tests were done until two weeks after he crashed because it was hard to get to the body and what not? How was it determined that he didn't experience hypoxia before he crashed and was not unconscious when he went down?
GEN. JONES : I'll attempt to answer that for you. After the summer, when some more of the aircraft equipment was recovered, the board was able to reproduce the final minutes of the accident and, in that reconstruction, there is every indication, to the board's belief, that Captain Haney was not incapacitated, that he was focusing on the complex emergency that General Lyon described and that that channelized attention led to his disorientation and failure to recognize that prior to impacting the terrain.
GEN. JONES : So the reconstruction of what the aircraft was doing, the inputs to aircraft controls made the board's belief that he was not incapacitated and ultimately it was misorientiation.
Q: But the inputs show that for 29 seconds, as he was crashing, he didn't make any inputs at all on the controls. Wouldn't it be, for a highly experienced pilot, you're crashing down towards the ground for 29 seconds and you don't move anything? Does that not question whether --
GEN. JONES : So let me use a personal example. With over 2,000 hours of flying the F-16, when you have an emergency, you are focused on that emergency and there are times when we are susceptible and vulnerable to overchannelizing our efforts. And I think every pilot's training is to analyze the situation, but to maintain aircraft control.
It is a difficult thing to do, particularly when you introduce some environments that he was faced with, such as night. And so I can fully understand being channelized in trying to absorb everything that is trying to happen in a complex emergency.
Q: Thank you.
LT. COL. DORRIAN: Next question.
Q: Shen Shoji from NHK Japan Broadcasting. Towards the end of the F-22 program, there was this concept of reversibility that was implemented by Lockheed and DOD so in case there is needs -- this program needs to be resurrected, it could happen very quickly. So with regards to this ongoing study, how are you implementing the findings of the study into this reversibility concept?
GEN. MARTIN: I'm sorry, I don't understand the concept of reversibility. Could you explain that again?
Q: According to both DOD and Lockheed, they want -- they want to make sure that they could reproduce something as quickly as possible if -- in -- if -- in case -- and it is necessary. Within that reversibility concept, how are you implementing -- (inaudible)?
GEN. MARTIN: I see, you're talking about reversibility with respect to the strategy -- the strategy that was promulgated in January, and your question is about what the recommendations are? I -- they're not related.
Q: How would you implement the recommendations here into the reversibility?
GEN. JONES: Sir, I'll answer from an Air Staff perspective. We are not engaging in any dialogue about restarting the F-22 production line. The last aircraft has come off of that production line. And so as Air Combat Command and our Air Force studies the recommendations of General Martin's group, we will examine any changes that are made to the aircraft as changes to those that are already procured, not restarting a production line, if -- I think that's what your question was.
LT. COL. DORRIAN: Dave.
Q: Dave Majumdar from Flight Global. There -- what -- are you taking any additional steps to mitigate some of these -- well, I guess physiology questions? There was another one, just -- even a couple days ago, if I recall. I mean, they seem to continue even with the -- all the steps you've taken thus far. Is there anything more that you guys can do?
GEN. LYON: Thanks for the question. When we made the decision to return to fly in September. After looking at all the information brought forward from investigative bodies, advisory boards, there were a set of recommendations given to us to implement that give us the confidence that this aircraft is even safer than it's been in the past and it has a tremendous track record for safety. We've implemented those initial set of recommendations; in fact, I have a couple things in front of you today.
We, very quickly, took commercial off-the-shelf technology. One of the hypotheses that was discussed earlier -- there are two hypotheses, as General Martin said. One is, is there a lack of quantity of oxygen getting to the pilot? This is a pulse oximeter. Many of you have seen this; it's broadly used commercially. Also those of you who may be long distance runners may wear heart rate monitors. This measures your heart rate and your -- and your oxygen level in your body.
The pilots fly with these. They're right on their arm, they look at them, and they check them. And if there's any indication of an abnormal oxygen rate, we terminate the flight. All eyes are focused on the safe recovery of that pilot and that aircraft at that time.
Another measure that we put in place -- the second hypothesis is, is there an issue with the quality of the air that's getting to the pilot? This is a -- this is a filter. It has a HEPA filter and an activated charcoal layer in between, like many of you may have on your furnaces in your home or may have in other things.
This filters out any particulate which may be getting to a pilot. Particulates are everywhere. They're in this room right now, in the air that we breathe here as well as the air that you breathe in -- in the -- in the air. We wear these on every flight. We analyze these, whenever we have an incident, to see what's in here. We haven't found anything of a significant level yet that's come through this.
The other thing that we've done is, initially to get to the emergency oxygen system, there was a small ring that was in there. We've replaced it. For $47 a piece, government worker's produce this handle which is now in every aircraft in Alaska and is in 70 percent of the fleet today, will be complete within the next two or three weeks. So these are some of the measures that we've put in place.
And I'm glad that you asked about the incident the other day. We have taken a 911 call approach. That's how seriously we take this. We have instructed and taught to the members in the field, whenever you get any indication that something may not be right, call 911. Terminate the flight. All eyes are on you and the safe recovery of that aircraft. We meet those pilots when they get back on the ground with a medical team who goes into an immediate response to care for the pilot, check his oxygen level, give him oxygen should he need it. We take additional tests and then send the tests off to the lab.
For the incidents we had, we've received nothing remarkable in the lab results which have come back. But importantly, the incident you referred to the other day, what we found was there was invalid data here. But we didn't question it. When it comes to safety, nobody second guesses the pilot. Let's get it on the ground, let's analyze the data, and let's continue to learn to get to the root cause.
Q: So is it possible that this is just a physiological phenomenon because of the characteristics of this aircraft and that there's nothing wrong with the oxygen system, that it's strictly related to, you know, the ascent or the G-forces of something that this plane is capable of generating?
GEN. MARTIN: If I could, let me start off by some of the discussions that we had in the Scientific Advisory Board about that issue.
This aircraft was the first aircraft designed after Goldwater- Nichols, after the Packard commission reports on acquisition, and its initial design -- this is the first aircraft that was designed with the knowledge that it was likely to be flying in a chemical/biological warfare environment.
The aircraft prior -- F-15, F-16 -- were not designed that way. We were going to protect the pilot with ensembles and that sort of stuff, OK?
In this airplane, we intended to have integrated into the aircraft a protection mechanism that would keep them safe while flying through a chemical/biological warfare environment.
What that meant, then, was, unlike all other aircraft, we were going to take oxygen from the onboard oxygen generation system and deliver it directly to the pilot and its dilution, so that you're getting the right percentage of oxygen, would be metered by an algorithm at the OBOGS -- on the on-board oxygen generation system. All other aircraft took that oxygen into the cockpit, where the regulator mixed it with cockpit air to the right percentage of oxygen.
But if you were going to fly through chemical environment, it's likely that the cockpit air could be contaminated. So as a result, the onboard oxygen generation system delivers oxygen to the pilot under pressure, so that if there's a problem in the cockpit, it's always pushing out and never being brought into the lungs.
We had not flown aircraft, and particularly high-performance aircraft, where the -- where the pilot is continually under pressurized oxygen. And when you lay on more Gs, you get even greater pressure, and the partial-pressure suit begins to inflate. So the physiological events that are occurring to that pilot are not as well-understood or as well-known.
And additionally, it must be said, because the report will say this, that during that same period of time we reduced the emphasis and the numbers of people associated with aviation physiology research and science. So at the time we were entering a new environment for flying, we also took down those kinds of people -- took them down -- we went from 600,000 people in the Air Force down to 330(,000) -- during that period of time those types of people went away. That needs to be re-established.
The Center of Excellence for Aviation Physiology, Human Systems Integration and those sorts of things need to be re-established because we are operating an aircraft in an environment with systems that perform differently than before, and they may have some effect on the humans' response and in the human reaction. We're not aware of some of those yet. And we did not have the research to it.
Q: So -- and then -- (off mic) --
GEN. JONES: And those are the organizational -- if I can readdress, Jay, those are the organizational types of recommendations and observations that General Martin's board offered to the Chief and the Secretary that go beyond just findings about equipment itself. And I will bring you back to the fact that this aircraft is the world's most advanced aircraft and does air superiority unlike any other aircraft in the world. This is the leading edge of technology.
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. And it is supremely capable at what it does, and we are confident in its abilities.
Q: (Off mic.)
GEN. JONES: That's why we're flying it now. It can do it right now, and it is able to do that without hesitation.
GEN. MARTIN: I want to follow -- I want to follow up, though -- the question about the root cause. I am convinced there is a root cause. And I want everyone to know, particularly those who operate it and their families, we will not rest until we find that root cause.
Q: But, in the meantime, are not pilots at risk if you cannot find the root cause now?
GEN. JONES: Jim, pilots are at risk every time that we strap an airplane on. Risk -- General Lyon annotated that what we do is critical to our nation, and we are in full belief that the steps that are in place by your combat command, the recommendations that General Martin's board came up with, have given us a very safe airplane. While we work to ultimately determine what the root cause is, this airplane is safe and capable of flying.
GEN. LYON: Jim, I want to you to know when -- I grew up in the F-16. Began flying it in 1982. We entered a period where we had a significant number of fatalities. We'd be flying against someone else, and they would fly into the terrain. We didn't know why. We continued to fly the aircraft because the nation needed us to do so.
It was through a series of tests -- centrifuge tests, training, inspections, equipment changes that we learned that the F-16 had such a capability that it could exceed the human in some of the parts of the envelope. We fixed that. We continue to fly and train to be ready for the missions.
GEN. MARTIN: Jim, let me -- let me say, there's a couple other things here. First of all, the onboard oxygen generation system, as it was originally designed and installed, did not require any routine maintenance or schedule. It was a fly-to-warn or fly-to-fail system. We now have routine inspections on it. We have routine inspections of the entire conduit process from the onboard oxygen generation system to them. We now do swab tests for the entire life support system on a regular basis.
So there are maintenance actions that are in place today, that were not there before, that will -- and can uncover leaks in the system and that sort of thing. Then you put on the pulse oximeter, which eventually will be integrated into the oxygen mask. You put in -- or rather into the headset -- you put in the oxygen measuring system, which we don't have today. You're now giving the pilot indications that they did not have before about their physiology and their performance.
So there's a whole bunch of things that mitigate the risk, but we're still, just as General Lyon said, still deadly serious about finding the root cause so that engineering-wise we eliminate that.
Will those other things that I've mentioned stay onboard? In some cases, yes. That will be an operational decision that they will make.
Q: And I truly understand the inherent risk for any combat flight operations. I guess let me restate the question. Are these pilots put at unnecessary risk, since you haven't determined the root cause?
GEN. LYON : No.
GEN. LYON: Absolutely not.
STAFF: Gentlemen, we got time for one more. Mark.
Q: General Martin, Mark Schanz, Air Force Magazine. You spent a lot of time talking about altitude, altitudes in the discussion. I want to get back to your -- what you found regarding the G-forces in these incidents. Why does there seem to be, from what I understand, a correlation between these incidences and G-forces -- (inaudible)?
The second part of that is, you mentioned the Navy has been in discussion with this investigation. Have they experienced some of these same physiological incidences with their high-performance aircraft, specifically the F-18?
GEN. MARTIN: First of all, with respect to the Navy, yes, they have, and they have shared that information with us. Their F-18 forces -- or fleet has both the previous system, known as liquid oxygen, and onboard oxygen generation systems, and they have had hypoxia-like incidents in both types of aircraft. All right? And then -- but you can check with them. I think you'll find that the numbers are fairly significant. And they worry a lot about it and they have put in place some mitigation strategies, which I think were very helpful for us to understand as we went through our study.
Now, with respect to the Gs and the occurrence of the hypoxia- like incidents, I think -- General Lyon is the expert, but it was my experience as we did our study that we had -- we observed that under high Gs, the onboard oxygen generation system might not produce as much oxygen as it would when it was not under G. But it was never below what we call the warning band. It was never in an area of concern. But it was a phenomenon we noticed, and that's one of the tests that's ongoing right now to determine why that phenomenon occurs, because it was unexplainable. It did not do that on the ground in the centrifuge, but it does it in the air. So that one we're working.
With respect to the incidents and Gs, we have had a significant number of incidents -- a significant -- several of the incidents that have occurred since return to fly occurred with no Gs; not zero G, but normal 1-G flight. In other cases they may have occurred after onset of Gs. So we've seen it across the board. And I would say you don't have a correlation there to Gs and incidents, I would say.
GEN. LYON: It's almost like walking down a fairway on a golf course and you see a ball sitting in the right rough. How did it get there? You have to trace it all the way back to the beginning of the swing of the golfer, and every bit of flight in the way that gets it there. So it is easy to say, ah, here's where the symptoms occur, and focus on that moment, but we've really taken, if you will, all the way back to where the golf swing begins, which in this case is when the pilot walked out to the aircraft.
He has this on. It's measuring his oxygen quantity levels. This is recorded and it's analyzed. It's worn through the flight and after flight, and then every one of these is analyzed. And we've found that the oxygen levels are staying high in the pilot.
This device -- we're back to high school chemistry, the periodic table. We're down to looking at parts per billion. That's the granularity of the analysis that we're getting to, parts per billion, whereas OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administraion] measures things in parts per million. You know, an order of magnitude above that is where they even start thinking about, do you have problems.
So we're getting as detailed and as granular as we can with both the quantity and the quality issue. We haven't found the root cause. But what I'm committed to is that we will not leave any stone unturned. We will use every discipline that's available, every form of study and discipline that is out there to get at this problem. And that's what we continue to do today.
LT. COL. DORRIAN: All right, ladies and gentlemen, thanks very much.