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Schwartz: F-22 grounding ends Wednesday

Sep. 19, 2011 - 05:33PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 19, 2011 - 05:33PM  |  
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The F-22 Raptor will take to the air Wednesday after four months on the ground for safety reasons.

Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz announced an end to the fleetwide stand-down Monday — first in a letter to Congress, then in a statement posted on the Air Force's website.

Schwartz approved a plan developed by Air Combat Command that allows the 160 twin-engine fighters to fly above 50,000 feet — the Raptor flies at 60,000 feet in normal circumstances — after an extensive inspection of every aircraft's life support systems. The systems also will be inspected daily.

In addition, the plan calls for pilots to undergo physiological tests and to use additional protective equipment, although the statement did not specify the equipment.

In his statement, Schwartz said he based his decision on studies conducted by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, which has been investigating the Raptor since the stand-down took effect May 3.

"We now have enough insight from recent studies and investigations that a return to flight is prudent and appropriate," Schwartz said. "We're managing the risks with our aircrews, and we're continuing to study the F-22's oxygen systems and collect data to improve its performance."

Investigators initially believed a malfunction of the F-22's On-Board Oxygen Generating System, or OBOGS, caused 14 cases of hypoxia, a condition that can bring on nausea, headache or fatigue when the body is deprived of oxygen.

Capt. Jeffrey Haney died late last year in an F-22 crash about 100 miles north of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, where he was assigned. The cause of the crash has not been made public.

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