The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

by Cora Currier, ProPublica

The pricey F-22 Raptor jet has just gotten back up in the air, but the safety problem that grounded it doesn’t seem to be resolved.

Last year, the F-22 was grounded for four months because pilots were experiencing dizziness and other symptoms of hypoxia, which is caused by a lack of oxygen. The Air Force looked into possible malfunctions in the plane’s oxygen-generation system, but in September, the planes were cleared for service after technicians were unable to pinpoint a source of the problem.

Yesterday, however, the Air Force’s Air Combat Command confirmed that some pilots — they would specify only “a very small” number — have requested not to fly the F-22.

General Mike Hostage, who heads the Air Combat Command, said in a news briefing yesterday that the Air Force is taking cautionary measures but would continue to fly the planes. “We don’t have a conclusive answer yet, and that’s why we continue to fly with the mitigating procedures, because I can’t learn about the problem if I don’t fly the airplane,” he said.

Since the planes started flying again in September, there have been more than 12,000 sorties and 11 reported instances of “hypoxia-like symptoms.” An Air Combat Command Center spokesman told ProPublica today that a team of two-dozen Air Force and outside specialists is monitoring the planes and pilots for both mechanical and medical problems regarding the hypoxia symptoms, but that no “root cause” has been determined.

Before the grounding, there had been at least 12 separate reports of hypoxia-like symptoms, and planes had been limited to flying at lower altitudes. In late 2010, an F-22 pilot died in a crash after he apparently lost control of the plane when the oxygen system malfunctioned. The Air Force’s official report on the incident acknowledged the oxygen system failure but blamed the pilot’s response for the crash.

As ProPublica has detailed, the roughly $70 billion F-22 program has long experienced structural deficiencies and cost overruns. The U.S. halted orders of the jets in 2009, as then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued the F-22’s specific capability was not widely applicable in the nation’s “spectrum of conflict.”

The planes have yet to be deployed in combat, though last week a number of them were reportedly sent to the United Arab Emirates.

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, left, and former President Donald Trump.

Photo by Kevin McCarthy (Public domain)

In the professional stratum of politics, few verities are treated with more reverence than the outcome of next year's midterm, when the Republican Party is deemed certain to recapture majorities in the House and Senate. With weary wisdom, any pol or pundit will cite the long string of elections that buttress this prediction.

Political history also tells us that many factors can influence an electoral result, including a national crisis or a change in economic conditions — in other words, things can change and even midterm elections are not entirely foretold. There have been a few exceptions to this rule, too.

Keep reading... Show less
x

Close