LIEUTENANT COLONEL TADD SHOLTIS: Ladies and gentlemen, it's my privilege today to welcome Major General Charlie Lyon, Air Combat Command's director of operations and the lead for F-22 Life Support System Task Force.
General Lyon is joined today Lieutenant Colonel Jay Flottmannand Mr. Scott Keen.
Lieutenant Colonel Flottmannis a qualified F-22 pilot and flight surgeon and the chief of flight safety for the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
Mr. Keen is the chief engineer for the F-22 System Program Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
They're here to discuss the most recent work done by the task force, which resulted in the F-22's recent deployments to Japan and other developments focused on returning the F-22 to normal operations that were announced next week.
MAJOR GENERAL LYON: Thanks, Ted.
As the Air Combat Command's director of operations, I am responsible for providing the resources to train our combat air forces and deploy them in support of national security objectives.
I'm happy to say that in the time since I last addressed this audience in March, we have added F-22 Raptors back into the deployable force currently serving our combatant commanders.
The F-22 provides critical capabilities through air dominance to ensure the success of the joint force, over land and over the seas, in the face of advanced defenses.
The presence of this tremendous capability reassures our friends and our allies. It strengthens our military relationships with the combined force, and potential adversaries pay close attention.
F-22s are deployed today in the Central Command and Pacific Command areas of responsibility.
You may recall I was asked by the secretary of the Air Force in January to lead a task force chartered to continue the effort to mitigate the risk to our crews, determine the root cause of previously unexplained F-22 physiological incidents, and once determined, identify a fix.
Our task force has leveraged the investigative efforts of numerous safety investigation boards and the Air Force's Scientific Advisory Board. We have made tremendous progress. Our last reported unexplained incident occurred on March 8th, just a few weeks before I last briefed you. And we have flown nearly 8,000 sorties totaling more than 10,000 flight hours since that incident.
Recently, we provided an update to Secretary Panetta and informed him of our latest findings and recommendations. First, we've determined with confidence the source of the unexplained physiological incident resides in the F-22 cockpit.
Second, through in-depth analysis, we eliminated contamination as a contributing factor to these incidents.
Third, we charted a path to eliminating all significant contributing factors for today and in the future.
We combined the medical disciplines of flight medicine, toxicology, physiology, human factors and occupational health with our operators, engineers, logisticians, and maintainers to reach our determination. Managing risk to our F-22 force has always been preeminent as we worked through this complex set of factors.
In the end, there is no smoking gun. We have assembled the pieces of the mosaic. They reside in the cockpit. Some of them are here before you today, in the upper pressure garment, in the oxygen delivery hoses, in the quick connection points and for a short time, in the air filter canister.
As we completed end-to-end testing in the life support systems components, we were able to piece together the contributing factors for our previously unexplained incidents.
And I must add that it was only through an integrated, collaborative approach by government and industry that we got to where we are today.
[Lieutenant] General Steve [Stephen] Hoog, currently of the Pacific Air Force, has started this effort by gathering the initial set of facts over a six-month period in early 2011.
Retired General Greg Martin, was who here with me in -- in March and his onboard oxygen generation system study group, chartered by the Scientific Advisory Board continued to work through the problem in the last half of 2011. Our task force built on their efforts to ensure collectively we left no stone unturned in the investigative process.
So how did we eliminate contamination as the root cause? We did this through months of exhaustive testing and flight testing line operational aircraft. We pored over aircraft involved in incidents. We analyzed thousands of samples of gasses, volatile and semi-volatile compounds, solids, liquids, and particulate matter.
We compared these samples to occupational hazard standards. And we checked the levels in incident aircraft and pilots against non- incident aircraft and pilots. We found nothing remarkable.
How did we determine the contributing factors resided in the F-22 cockpit? We conducted in-depth interviews with the F-22 community and developed testing protocols in the altitude chamber, and centrifuge to isolate variables in their flight gear and cockpit connections.
Those discussions began in the spring and our initial testing took place at Brooks-City Base, Texas in May. We measured, for the first time in this process, empirical data that demonstrates the breathing restrictions and impedances caused by various components in the F-22 cockpit and gear worn by the pilots.
We've completed our forensic analysis as a task force, and we're moving forward with enhancements and fixes. At the same time, NASA is conducting an independent analysis. To date, they provided one recommendation and we've incorporated it. Anything that is learned by NASA from this day forward will be incorporated and accepted by the Air Force.
I recently visited our F-22 bases and can tell you their confidence is high. There's no other aircraft our pilots would rather fly in the service of our nation. Our maintenance personnel are proud to be part of the F-22 community, and work diligently to keep it armed and ready to fly anywhere around the globe.
Our work is not done. And we'll continue to gather data while we implement improvements we've outlined to Secretary Panetta. Let me be clear: There will be physiological incidents in the future in the F- 22 and in other aircraft.
That goes with the territory of high-performance fighter aircraft and flight operations. The F-22 is a hybrid high-performance fighter aircraft that combined high-altitude flight operations and high maneuverability or high-G throughout its flight envelope.
What gave the Air Force grave concern last year when we stood down the fleet was the unexplained nature of the incidents and the incident rates. We now have an explanation and the incident rate is decreasing, nearly 8,000 sorties and more than 10,000 hours without an unexplained incident, a positive vector toward providing air dominance with greater margins of safety well into the future.
Thank you for your time today. We stand ready to answer your questions.
Q: Courtney (inaudible) from NBC News.
So I'm -- I'm sorry, I'm not clear on -- you said there's no smoking gun and you mentioned several different things. So essentially, it's the combination of the pressure vest and the -- the tubes, or whatever.
Q: What causes it?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: The upper pressure garment -- we flew with a chemical warfare filter to filter out any potential contamination for a while. It also has a breathing impedance. Also, the shape and the size of the hoses and the connections where we lose oxygen coming to the pilot -- as the oxygen works its way into the cockpit and through these connections and hoses and restrictions that we found from the upper pressure garment.
Q: So that's what was called the hypoxic symptoms?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Hypoxia-like symptoms, and this is an important point as well -- one of the thing that we did in our analysis this spring was we brought together those members of those communities that I talked about, different disciplines from the medical community as well as our pilots, and we started describing symptoms.
One of the things that we did last -- last fall, when we returned to fly, was I instructed all the pilots and our maintenance personnel at the first symptom, at the first sign, knock off what you're doing, stop what you're doing, we'll get you away from the airplane, we'll take care of you, and then we'll go look at the airplane to see what's going on.
What we found this spring is that a lot of these symptoms are ambiguous. Dizziness, as an example, or lightheadedness, is a symptom of hypoxia. It's also a symptom of toxic exposure. That's why all the efforts started there.
But it's also a symptom for hypoglycemia, low blood sugar; dehydration, not fully -- not fully hydrated when you come to work; or hypocapnia/hypercapnia, two different forms that it can occur physiologically inside the pilot's body while he's connected to these suits.
So this was part of the discovery process. What we initially thought were symptoms of hypoxia, the lack of oxygen, just lack of oxygen getting to a pilot, or a problem with it getting to the pilot, with the quality, can actually be symptoms for any number of other maladies that are out there, if you will.
If you haven't -- if you haven't eaten normally or you haven't fully hydrated, those type of things can start to degrade your personal performance, your human performance, and you can see those effects.
Q: OK. So, I'm sorry, I'm still unclear. So it -- so these are -- these are problems that -- other physiological problems that pilots could exhibit...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: In any aircraft.
Q: ... in any aircraft, right.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: That's correct.
Q: So -- so the hoses and the vest, what -- what was wrong with them that you've determined that's now being fixed?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Well I'll show you one thing. This valve that I'm holding, this is a prototype valve that hooks into the upper pressure garment that we're going to start the testing here in about a month or so to meet to the vest to give it better performance, performance that is specified for the F-22.
What I'd like to do to help address your question is to ask Lieutenant Colonel Flottmann to kind of walk you through the gear that we have here in the interactions and I think that'll help clear it up a little bit.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL FLOTTMANN: OK, I'll give you a brief introduction to the life support gear that we're wearing right here. The valve that General Lyon -- I'll just disconnect this -- the valve that General Lyon showed you that's the prototype is to replace this valve right here.
This valve goes to the upper pressure garment and it's routed through this crew 122. And air coming from the ship's supply goes through this corrugated hose, through this quick connect, into the 122 and then it's routed via different valves and structures to the pilot mask as well as the upper pressure garment.
And what General Lyon will talk about is the reliability of the valve that we found during testing wasn't quite what it was designed to do.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: So this -- this upper pressure garment -- this green piece of cloth that you see here that -- that pilots wear in the F-22 has a dual purpose. It's to help them with their breathing when they're pulling Gs, acceleration forces, and also in the event of a rapid decompression at high altitude, it forms a partial pressure suit to -- to protect their lungs in that case. We designed this -- we tested this vest back in the 1980s. This is part of our forensics analysis in fact I lived through the test processes as an F-16 pilot. Because of our G loss of consciousness incidence that we had in the F-16 in the 1980s, we developed some new flight gear, including this upper pressure garment which was supposed to help make it easier to breathe under -- under high-stress, high-G situations.
We fielded it in 1992. And in the 2004-2005 timeframe, we made the decision to remove these from flight from the F-15 and the F- 16 because we found after flying with them for a decade, they weren't giving us the contribution that we thought that they were going to give us to protect us against Gs. The pilots were doing fine without them.
We continued to fly with the F-22 because we also fly at very high altitudes in the -- in the F-22, higher than we fly with the F-15 and the F-16. Therefore, in the unlikely event of a rapid decompression, a leak in a seal or something like that where you immediately would go to the ambient altitude that surrounds you at 50-some thousand feet, this helps protect the pilot's lungs. That's why it's there.
What we also found in our testing that we did this spring and early summer is that the functioning of that valve was specified for operating in an F-15 and an F-16, but it's not specified to work with the F-22 through the oxygen system. Let me explain what that means.
If I'm sitting in a normal environment in my F-16 or F-15, analogous to you being in the back of an airliner under one-G flying along, in an F-15 and F-16, that vest remains deflated. It's just a layer of clothing that's on you and it's not helping you, it's not hurting. It's just there.
When I pull back on the stick and get the acceleration forces going into a turn, we get into pressure breathing. The pressure breathing gives more oxygen into the pilot's mouth to help keep him oxygenated, to deal against the forces of gravity, and it puts pressure into this garment to help him with his overall breathing.
What we discovered in the F-22 is that that valve is opening under normal conditions in an F-22 when it should not. So this vest is always inflated on an F-22 pilot and it should not be inflated until they start to pull Gs.
What that does to the pilot is it restricts his breathing. It restricts his ability to do normal inhalation and exhalation. I don't know if anybody sitting in the audience has ever hyperventilated, but if you've hyperventilated, you're no longer doing efficient breathing. And one of the first symptoms that you get from hyperventilation is a lightheadedness or a dizziness.
So when we start to affect a human's breathing cycle, physiologically they will start to get some symptoms. It may be lightheadedness. It may be tingling. It may be a bit of numbness. That's what we found is that the pressurization schedule with the F-22 inflates this prematurely.
So we've removed this. Pilots are not flying with this garment today. We took it off in early June while we do the testing on the valve and make the fix and get this back in place, and we'll put it back on.
Does that help?
Q: Yeah. Thank you.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: OK.
Q: So how long you been studying this, five years or so, this problem of hypoxia-like symptoms?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: No, no, not five years. We first...
Q: ... but -- but more than a couple years. In all that time these vests have been inflating every time a pilot puts one on, no pilot has ever said, "Yo, boss, when I flew the F-16 or the F-15 this never happened, now it's happening on here," this is first you've discovered this was happening?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Never reached a point of any significance with the flying community. In fact, when we put our F-22 pilots in the centrifuge this summer and we demonstrated that it's inflating when it shouldn't, the pilots said, "I didn't notice that in flight. Why is that?" And that's the real question, right, why is that?
Part of it gets to the line of analysis we went down to looking at all the layers of clothing and equipment that the pilots wore. They fly with a lot of weight on their upper torso.
What's not shown here today, in addition, is the survival vest that includes a handgun, a radio, first aid kit, things like that. We fly with a lot of kit on the torso of our pilots in most situations. So you just adapt your environment. You get used to the environment that you're in. That's -- that's what -- that's what we found.
Q: So it was not fully inflating to the point where it would help them breathe better...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Oh, no, it's -- it's fully inflating, but it's inflating before it should. So it's like putting a corset around your chest. So if you're sitting here in 1G, as you are right now, and I put that vest on you and I inflate it, you're going to find it harder to breathe and you're going to alter your breathing pattern in order to adapt to this restriction on you.
And when you do that, you will no longer have the sufficient inhalation/exhalation, you will not have the right expiration of the carbon dioxide that builds up in your lungs, and you'll start to feel some symptoms after a period of time.
Q: Two questions. When does this now return -- the F-22 return to normal flight operations? And how does this explanation sort with the instances in which ground crew members were reporting hypoxia?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Let me take the first -- first part of that question. We briefed Secretary Panetta on a number of things that we're going to do to get back to full normal operations. The first thing that we're working on is finishing out the recommendations given to us by the scientific advisory board.
We had eight items given to us, five are complete, three remain open. The first one that we will finish will be the incorporation of an independent oxygen sensor that resides in the cockpit that registers the concentration of oxygen getting to the cockpit.
And, we're 89 percent complete installing that in the fleet. The second part that we're doing is we're changing -- I showed you the last time the finger-mounted pulse oximeter.
Scott, if you would.
We're now moving from a finger-mounted pulse oximeter to a helmet-mounted pulse oximeter -- this device -- which integrates into the pilot's helmet and will continue to give him the -- the readout of the oxygenation that's getting into his blood stream.
If you want to put that on and demonstrate it.
So it goes inside the right ear of the helmet.
That's to make sure the pilots stay normally oxygenated. Now we've been flying with the finger one for a while, and it was given to us by the Scientific Advisory Board on the -- on the advice of the Mayo Clinic, but what we found is in a dynamic flight environment, having it on the finger is not as reliable as if we put it up here, and this will be less intrusive.
And then the third part is that NASA is doing an independent analysis of all the things that have gone on. When they complete that and give us a recommendation, and that should happen, at least in interim report from NASA, we're expecting next month.
So when we finish those three things, getting this into the fleet we have this in the one squadron, the second squadron will get it next month, but this fall we'll complete all three of those items. Then we'll go back to Secretary Panetta and we'll -- we'll show him where we are and we'll start looking at reducing that tether on the local sorties.
The next step will be when we get this new valve tested and validated through ground testing then flight testing and mate it to that pressure garment. When that's done we'll show Secretary Panetta the -- the results of that which will allow us to delete the current altitude restriction that our Raptor pilots are flying on.
Q: When does -- what is the current tether?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: The current tether is about 30 minutes for local training sorties. For local training sorties, what we discussed with Secretary Panetta was the long duration flights our deployment flights and our delivery of aircraft -- the Hawaii National Guard is awaiting deliveries, some of their aircraft, and we're going through step by step increasing those distances that we fly.
Just this past week we -- we flew 12 F-22s from Langley Air Force Base to Elmendorf Air Force Base Alaska.
And then we've hopped them from there down to Okinawa, and they've all arrived there and they all flew incident-free.
So the next step will be continuing with those long-duration ferry flights, if you will, and deployments.
Q: On that (inaudible) far from a landing field where they had any...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: They -- they were -- they were closer to two hours from a landing field at some point. They were closer to two hours than they were to one hour away, so more than an hour-and-a-half away at points of that.
Q: And then would you just address the thing about the ground?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Right. I'm glad you asked that question because that's one of the things we looked at, too. The pilots are all hooked up to this gear. The folks on the ground, and we had six folks had incidents on the ground, our ground personnel. They're not hooked up to this gear, so what caused that?
And by the way, four of those occurred at one location, at the same location, and the two spread at other locations. And we've not had any of those incidents since the middle of December. So we've gone seven-and-a-half months. So we got, in essence, a cluster that took place at one of the bases.
What we have determined from looking at that, because we took those ground personnel after they declared that they had a symptom or a sign, and we ran them through the same medical protocols that we did with every pilot that's had one of these, which are blood tests, urinalysis, and pulmonary function tests, getting their breaths. We put those maintenance ground personnel through those same tests to see if there's anything present, because at that time, our leading candidate was contamination.
We found nothing remarkable in their blood, their urine or in their breath. After we did that, we went to those aircraft that they had been servicing and we did all the same protocols on those aircraft as we did for the flying incidents. And again, we found no remarkable levels of any contaminant. I may have said the last time I was here, there are contaminants in the air that we breathe right here in this room. "Contaminant" is a term that is used in the -- in the -- in the area of folks who work on this, the toxicologists. We found nothing remarkable that shows any contamination and they're not hooked up to this. So what caused it?
What I believe as the task force lead is I believe that the guidance that I issued across the entire F-22 community that at the first sign of any symptom, that these folks had some of these symptoms which are ambiguous with other things that could happen to them, and they reported based on that.
So there's a chance that they were -- their diet wasn't right that day. They didn't have the hydration level that they needed or something else going on. We also found that there were some cases where they've had jet exhaust kind of blowing back on them.
And anyone who's been on the flight line around jet exhaust, you know you start to feel a little queasy when you get that.
So we believe there's a sensitivity injected into the force based on the guidance that was issued by us, by me personally, and as I'd like to assure you all, I stand by that. I think it's more -- I think it's prudent to tell people report at the first sign, let us sort it out afterwards, rather than let it get too far down the path.
Q: Brian Everstine, Air Force Times.
After the ground maintainers reported these symptoms, there was a recommendation [that] they would use a summa canister.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes.
Q: Is that still in use?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: It is.
Q: And also you mentioned that NASA had provided one recommendation.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes.
Q: I don't know if I missed it. What was that?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes. The recommendation had to do with our response protocols, our medical response protocols and how we handle them.
So typically what happens is either a pilot or a ground personnel, the pilot in the air or just after he got back from flying, will tell somebody, "Hey, I'm not feeling good," and we kick in the protocols with the flight docs and everybody will respond to him.
The same thing with the ground crew personnel take place. So if a -- if a maintainer is out there doing an engine run on an aircraft, he'll probably shut down the engines, get out of the aircraft, inform his supervisor, and then everything goes from there.
What they found was, what if somebody comes to report something to you six hours later? And what we found was our -- now, we never had that happen, by the way, but it's a potential vulnerability that if somebody were to report a symptom six hours later that we might lose that -- that incident response protocol that we put in place to react immediately.
So we said, "Thanks, that's a -- that's a great input." We've now incorporated that into our check list, so that if somebody comes back to us half a day later, a day later, we make sure that we run him through the same medical response protocols, we make sure that we stop all activity on the aircraft that was involved in that and start running the protocols on that as well.
Q: Hi. Thank you. I'm not an expert on airplanes, but I did lose someone to respiratory distress. So you mentioned the thing that goes on the finger...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes.
Q: ... I'm assuming that it monitors blood oxygen levels.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: It does.
Q: I'm wondering why it didn't register lowered blood ox when the suit was inflating over a period of five years.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Sure. Well for one thing we didn't put the finger mounted pulse ox on until last September. So -- so we had a period of time here where we've analyzed it.
I'm going to let Dr. Flottmann address this in just a second. But that was one of the things we thought would be helpful is that if there's something influencing you're blood oxygen level that it'll be registered by this pulse oximeter. In fact, we have directives to the pilots, they check those every 15 minutes in flight, you know, to look to see what they're reading.
You want to talk about the...
LIEUTENANT COLONEL JAY FLOTTMANN: Real briefly, remember that the finger pulse oximeter is measuring the saturation in your finger, so it is an indirect correlation to the oxygenation of the brain, if you will, but primarily it's measuring the oxygen saturation in your finger.
So when we pull Gs for example, we know that the blood typically goes to the middle of the chest, i.e. reduces the blood flow to your fingers. So we might see a dip in that case, but in all -- the majority of the cases that we've had, as either explained or unexplained, we haven't seen a substantial change in the pulse oximeter.
Q: Well it just seems like something that it should have picked up. I mean, I've seen this happen, where you put it on the finger -- I know it's just the finger, but when the blood ox go below say 80, you know, an alarm goes off. At least that's what happens when you go to the hospital.
Is there something like that in the airplane? You know, an alarm that goes off if your blood ox go below 80?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: There's no alarm in the aircraft, but the guidance that we issue to the pilots who wear this is if you see a reading below 85 that you terminate the mission immediately and you come back home.
Q: They have to check it, there's -- there's nothing that would automatically -- wouldn't that help?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Well, to answer your question, as we have looked at the incidents that have taken place, we have found no correlation to reduced oxygenation in the blood level. The pulse ox's have not given us any correlation that show that. This is what got us part of -- all these are independent clues that came together that ended up looking at this equipment and saying we're getting into these temporary situations where the person's breathing is changing, and it's just changing what's going on inside their breathing system, but it's not affecting their overall blood oxygenation.
Q: If you're breathing rapidly your heart rate goes up and your blood ox go down, so -- I'm sorry, no, I'll cease this question because I don't want to belabor it, but it just seems like that would be something that should have been picked up.
I mean, you know, if your heart rate jumps, your blood ox go down, shouldn't -- I mean, isn't that -- wouldn't that be a result of the -- the pressure suit inflating?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: You want to talk more about that Dr. Flottmann?
LT. COL. FLOTTMANN: Let me just make one clear distinction, respiratory distress and what we have seen are two completely different things. Respiratory distress is an entirely different medical problem, and that's not what we're describing in this situation.
So the point is as the heartbeat goes up and respiratory distress, it's possible for the pulse ox to go down. But in the case that we see in -- in aviation, in this example, we see variations in the heart rate, but really no change in the pulse ox. So they're not -- they're not tied together like you suggest.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: What we're seeing is not that severe as the situation you're describing.
Q: With the pressure suit situation, there's been -- well, (inaudible) initially certified this gear in the first place were saying that Brooks had already measured the level of pressure in the vest even back then, 12 years ago. And, you know, like they've been flying with this for a long time. It was considered an irritation back then.
And (inaudible) the only real way to fix this problem is the acceleration (inaudible) part of this is to change the (inaudible) schedule to the proposed schedule of 2006 that (inaudible) kind of run through, but never actually certified.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Let's take that a piece at a time.
First of all, there's some rudimentary testing done on this flight equipment in 2002 and 2003. What the Scientific Advisory Board found in their investigation is that the testing done -- the testing which was executed during the development phase of the F-22 was not comprehensive. We did not execute end-to-end testing of the life support systems.
What we tested were individual components. When you measure the vest by itself, it looks OK in some situations. When you measure the mask by itself, it looks very good. But when we took all these components that you see in front of you, put the actual gear on actual F-22 pilots and put them in the centrifuge at Brooks City-Base just a few months ago, the sensors that we have now available to measure how the oxygen is flowing and what the breath rates are far advanced over what folks had back during the development phase.
And that was sort of an "aha" moment for us, as we were able to measure for our task force and for the pilots. That was an "aha" moment. We were able to measure that this is not performing the way we thought it should. The standards for the flow of air were established in 1988, and that's what we designed the F-22 system to operate against.
It was through our discussions with the naval experimental dive unit that we found through their own testing of underwater systems that they found that those standards established from 1988 may not be the best standards to use in 2012, which is to say we have both divers and pilots and air crew members who are requesting more quantities of air than what systems were designed to give them.
Doesn't mean the system can't deliver it to them. Just means that was not the design point. But the understanding of the physiology of how hard divers are working underwater, how hard air crews are working in the air goes beyond what folks understood in 1988, and that's why we're -- I describe these as vulnerabilities, because they're not truly deficiencies. They were designed against the standard that we had to use across the DoD. Now we're informing that standard, we're learning new things, because we have the ability to test better.
Q: John Reid, Foreign Policy. What's actually -- I'm sorry -- what's actually causing the vest to inflate prematurely? What's the...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: It's a valve.
Q: Right. But what's the (inaudible)?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: OK. Let me -- let me try and explain it to you this way.
When I fly in an F-16, when I inhale, air comes to me through the system. When I exhale, I push it away.
In the F-22, there's constant air flow coming to the pilot. It was a design feature. It was designed with this closed loop onboard oxygen generation system. We had an operational requirement that should we have to fly F-22s in a chemical environment, in a biological warfare environment, we would have a self-sealing, if you will, closed loop system which would ensure good quality air to the pilot.
So it constantly sends pressure through the hoses to the pilot to do that, so that if I get just a -- just a pin prick leak in that hose, the system will compensate, it'll know that, and it'll push more air to me so that it not only gets the air to my face, but it will keep pushing air out that hose and never allow a vacuum for something to come in.
Does that make sense to you, what we're talking about there? Because that constant pressure is on the F-22, it opens that valve that's not supposed to open until you get to 4 Gs. And that's what's different in the F-22.
Q: Gabe Starosta, Inside the Air Force, will the backup oxygen system that you all are installing, will that help fix any of these conditions or will it simply be an emergency in case of?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Well, it'll be a backup system, it won't be an emergency system. We currently have an emergency system, which is what you use in a last resort.
I'll go back to what the scientific advisory board found and described to us when -- when they concluded their work. The backup oxygen system was originally in the design of the F-22, as we got into cost constraints it was eliminated from the design.
So it is a safety margin that it'll provide for our pilots that will give them margin that they've not had up until this point, and that's why we're going to do it.
There will be cases where that backup oxygen system could cut in if the -- if the OBOGS has some sort of a failure or temporary problem, and that's why we need it, is to increase that safety margin.
Q: Okay, let me ask you a question about the deployment to Japan.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes?
Q: Given the flight limitations with altitude, with the tether, why not wait until later on this year, like, until you've spoken with the secretary to lift some of those to send those airplanes to Kadena?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: When we deploy the F-22 it reassures our allies and our friends. We send them the very best that we have from the aviation component. We give them the opportunity -- our F-22 crews -- the opportunity to work with our partners.
And that's -- to many of our partners unless we deploy the aircraft out to their part of the world, they don't get an opportunity to work with it. And we think that's very important for the strength of our --our coalitions and the alliances that we have.
Q: Did the Japanese raise any safety concerns with the F- 22 the way there was some talk about the Osprey?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I'm not aware -- I'm not aware of any of that. No.
Q: Did -- did they ask for or have you provided any kind of a briefing or summary of your findings to either the ministry of defense or the...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I have not heard of any request for that. I don't know about that. Yes, sir?
Q: (inaudible) Are there are any F-22 pilots still refusing to fly? And how many were there in total?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I think you saw probably the -- the two that went on national television. There have been none other than those two. One of those two has returned to flying status.
Q: And what's the status of the other one?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I'd have to refer that question to the Virginia Air National Guard.
Q: Amy McCullough, the Air Force Magazine.
Is there -- what's the cost estimate for implementing all of these fixes?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I don't have a cost estimate, we'll have to get back to you on that. But I'll tell you my task is to make sure we got it fixed, and I'm going to let the cost folks worry about that.
Q: Well I just ask because you said that the backup oxygen system was originally part of the aircraft's design but was taken out because of cost and anybody inside Washington knows right now, but cost is a big factor.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Sure. Well, I think Mr. Keen can address that because we have put a system on contract that we're developing the implementation plan.
MR. SCOTT KEEN: You're talking about the total cost of (inaudible)?
MR. KEEN: Yeah, I'm going to have to defer because I don't want to give out any bad information. I'm the chief engineer and I don't deal with the cost, but...
MR. KEEN: Yes, ma'am. I don't want to give out any extraneous costs. I'm going to, you know, defer that and get back with you on that answer.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: It's in the millions.
MR. KEEN: Yes.
Q: A separate question. Just so I am clear, I know you figured out what -- how the valve was inflating in that.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes.
Q: Have you figured out exactly how to fix it? I mean, what's the difference between the valve that's on that one that you held up?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Tension.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: T-E-N-S-I-O-N, tension -- more tension on the valve so that it won't open as quickly. It requires more pressure coming through the valve in order to open it up.
Q: And what's the -- how long do you expect that testing process to...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: We expect to have the field completely outfitted before the end of this calendar year.
Q: (inaudible). Regarding the current deployment to Japan, is there a plan by the ACC to have a continuous rotational deployment? Or once the squadron leaves, to have another squadron come in on a constant basis?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Well, I'm the force provider. We are the force provider from Air Combat Command. And what we have are recurring requests to deploy the F-22s into the Pacific Command theater. And it is the U.S. commander of Pacific Command who makes those requests and work that through the Department of Defense. He's very happy to get the aircraft there and very happy to use them to train with the joint force and with our partners in Japan and throughout the region.
So we can expect to see F-22s continuing off and on throughout -- throughout the coming years, but we don't have a specific schedule for that lined up.
I want to make sure I got somebody who has not asked a question.
Q: Hi, Jennifer Laden from Stars and Stripes.
You mentioned that this garment was developed in the '80s and then fielded in 1992. Correct?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes.
Q: The -- I -- the process that you described of how the air leaked...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes.
Q: ... did that process -- did that process exist for the other aircraft as well? I'm just trying to figure out why that process is -- is it just the valves that...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: It's the valve.
Q: So, but that process of the air being constant and being pushed out, is that -- was that something -- a new capability that was developed in the F-22 or did that exist before?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes, so again, in the F-15 and the F-16, I demand oxygen and I pull it through the system unless I'm pulling Gs. Once I get to 4 Gs in an F-16, the system will supply that to me automatically.
That's part of what we changed to help our pilots in the F-15 and the F-16. Once I back off and get below 4 Gs, that stops sending that pressure air to me and to the vest.
In the F-22 there's pressure constantly going to the vest.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: So that constantly inflates it.
Q: But once that capability was added, the vest was never tested as a whole...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: It was tested. And in fact, that was part of our forensics analysis, because that's the first question -- I mean, I asked the same question, "Hey, why does it take this long to figure this out?"
We found the test report. There was a rudimentary testing that was conducted on the vest and it said we find that it inflates early and that it impedes the mobility of the pilot in the cockpit. And that was it.
They didn't study the long-term physiological impact of having this inflated. Why is that? It's one of the other findings that came out of the scientific advisory board, was that as we downsized our Department of Defense and the -- and the services in the 1990s at the end of the Cold War, we -- we got rid of a lot of our capabilities. I mean, we just -- we reduced to about 60 percent of the size that we had been. And some of these capabilities we outsourced and we just did away with retaining this in government.
So while it was known as a human systems wing that had done a lot of this work. They got significantly downsized and relocated. And we're building them back up now. That's one of the findings, is that we have got to -- we probably overshot the mark on how much downsizing we did in this study of physiology.
We thought we'd learned most of what we needed to learn when we brought the F-15 and F-16 on, because it was -- they were high G aircraft. What we would with this aircraft, it's a hybrid. It combines all the physiology of flying at high altitude while you have to worry about the physiology of flying at high G. We didn't had any other airplanes had done that. The U-2 and the SR-71 fly at high altitudes, and so their life support systems are optimized for that. But there's nothing in there to protect them against the forces of gravity, because they don't pull a lot of Gs.
Our F-16s and F-15s, we optimized the life support system for the high G environment. We didn't get that high all that often, therefore it wasn't that big a deal.
This aircraft brought those two studies together, and that's what we've really learned, is that we've got more work to do. And we've started down that path of learning how we integrate the protective measures to protect us for high altitude flight and for high G maneuvering at the same time.
Q: David Lerman with Bloomberg. Just to be clear, I haven't heard you say that the mystery of these unexplained hypoxia incidences has been solved. I mean are you saying that this valve caused the problem and that when you fixed the valve we should have fixed the problem or is there some reluctance to say that yet because you're still looking...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I -- I will not damn for eternity this valve. This valve is a contributing factor -- significant contributing factor but it's operating the way it was -- the way it was designed to operate when we brought it in the fly on the F-15 and the F-16.
What we have found is as designed it was not completely compatible with the F-22, and we're fixing it. But it's the combination -- it's the combination of restrict by putting this extra pressure on the pilot's chest which forces -- and if anybody doesn't believe me, go home tonight and put something really tight on your chest and breathe for a while and see what it does to you. You will get some symptoms after a while.
It's a combination of that. The combination that at times under high G when you're demanding a lot of air that some of the air is not coming through the hoses at the rate it should. Some of the air is leaking through some of the quick connects.
And then also when we put the chemical filter on, last September, to protect against the possibility of contamination, that also had a known level of impedance, i.e. it's harder to breathe through a filter.
Q: I mean the filter was gone, right? I don't understand what else has to be done to fix this. Once you fix the valve, do you have a confidence level that you've solved the problem or are you still looking at these hoses or what?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: As the -- as the lead investigator for this task force I have high confidence that we have eliminated the major contributors to our problem. Absolutely by removing the C2 filter which was absolutely necessary to fly with when we came back to fly, because we were unsure about the presence of contamination.
We have to fly with that filter. We knew it had an impedance, but it's a contributor. It's not the biggest contributor, but it was part of it. These are the pieces of the mosaic that I talked about that have come together.
We know that we're losing some air through these hoses. We know that we lose some air through the hoses in the F-15 and the F-16. But the F-15 and the F-16 did not have the problem with the pressure garment that had because of the...
Q: And that should fix it?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I think that yes, I believe it will. That's what I've -- that what I've told the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of defense. We may learn something new. We may learn something new as NASA does their analysis. And if we do, we'll incorporate that and that will become part of the fix.
We've not had an incident since March the 8th. We took the canister off the end of April. We took the pressure garment off back in the early part of June.
Q: And is there a ratio of incidents that are tied to the -- the pressure garment and others that you can talk to, and say...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Well, here's -- as I looked at it as the investigator, you know, what -- what is common, what is -- we first started really getting concerns about this in 2008. That's when we started to see incidents go up. That's also the same year where we saw our total number of flight hours increase because we were in full-rate production getting a lot of aircraft out to the field. So the sheer number of incidents increased because the sheer number of hours were increasing.
But 2008 through now, March the 8th when we had the incident, what was common? What was common was that upper pressure garment, those hoses, those valves, those connections. The canister only came on afterwards. I believe -- I said "I believe." I mean, I believe that the guidance that I issued that told pilots and ground crews that at the first sign, I want you to knock it off. I believe that's contributed to the incident rate.
I -- military people are pretty good at following orders. And what they found is they can be part of the solution, because that's what -- that's what was missing earlier is we didn't have response protocols in place. The Scientific Advisory Board figured that out for us during the stand-down period. "Hey, here are the things you need to do."
So we -- we took these pilots like Dr. Flottmann here, took six vials of blood from him before he could fly again in September, to get baseline blood levels on him. And then we took additional blood should he have an incident, we're prepared to have it for comparison to see if the levels change.
But what's common are the things that you see here. That's what's common across the whole period. The filter was brought on afterwards, and we know that.
Q: So how many incidents are there -- or reported incidents were there that you can tie to these problems? How many unexplained incidents?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: What we've had, and I want to start with this return to fly phase that began in September, 2011. We've had 11. At one point, we got up to 11 incidents which we could not explain when they initially happened.
We're in the process now of going back through all our documentation and dotting our I's, crossing our T's, but the vast majority of those we know were caused by the things that I've described to you today.
Q: And I'm sorry -- the 11 were beginning in 2011?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes, yes. From -- the first one was in the -- the latter part of October, 2011, and the most recent one that we had that we could not explain initially was on March the 8th.
Q: What about the Jeff Haney crash?
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yes.
Q: Was that -- at this point, can you say that that was -- that this contributed...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: There's no -- no.
Q: There's no evidence at all that that was...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: That's correct.
Q: Other than the Jeff Haney crash, were there any of those 11 that you can rule out that didn't have to do with that? (inaudible)
MAJ. GEN. LYON: What I'm saying -- well, what -- I've not done the final documentation. Our efforts have been focused on finding the problem, fixing the problem. We've looked at the documentation initially. We're turning our documentation back over to the convening authorities for each one of these incidents, and we're having them add this information in. I can say with high confidence that the majority of those -- a majority of those we know were caused by this and some localized conditions at the two bases.
We had three bases where these occurred. On the ground at one base and then two bases in the air. And it was because the two bases in the air flew with lots of layers of gear that -- that was one of the clues that we went to the centrifuge and said, "Get in the centrifuge with all your layers of gear on and let's see how it's affecting your -- your breathing."
Because this probably -- that -- that was what we really started centering in on back in about the April timeframe, because we had four other bases where it was not happening to the pilots in the air. So we took these pilots into centrifuge. We put all the gear on them, and then one at a time with tests we started taking some of the gear off and taking more of the gear off, and measuring their breathing patterns and finding that their breathing returned to a normal rate once we removed these impediments that I've described to you today.
Q: General, what about the F-35? How much of the equipment we see here, especially that knob or that new valve that you have there, are common to the F-35s that are now going into...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I'm not involved in the F-22 (sic) testing, but what I can tell you is that everything that we've been doing, we've been sharing with the F-22 (sic) test force through...
Q: You mean F-35.
MAJ. GEN. LYON: I'm sorry -- the F-35 test force through our system program office.
There's not anything that we've done that has not been turned over to them to make sure that they -- in fact, they have a backup oxygen system.
Part of the components that we are including in our backup oxygen system come from the F-35 design.
Q: So you don't know whether or not these kind of vests or those kind of valves...
MAJ. GEN. LYON: Yeah, no I have to get back to you on the answer on that. Because you know we're so early in the F-35 testing process.
OK, well ladies and gentlemen again thank you for your time and your interest in this and being able to convey to the public all the work that's been going on.
The last thing I'd like to leave you with is I have -- in case I haven't mentioned it is I visited five of the six F-22 bases personally with my team over the last six weeks. The only one we haven't visited is the base where the F-22s are deployed to central command. Really not many people are willing to talk about.
We've explained all of this. We've had a lot of ongoing dialogue with them, and what I want you to know is that both they and their families have very high confidence in the F-22. We asked some very direct questions through a number of surveys with our crews and there's no aircraft they would rather fly in a service to our nation than the F-22. That's how confident they are.
Thank you very much.