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Hypoxia-like illness also hits F-22 maintainers

May. 7, 2012 - 10:05AM   |   Last Updated: May. 7, 2012 - 10:05AM  |  
F-22 pilots Capt. Josh Wilson, left, and Maj. Jeremy Gordon of the Virginia Air National Guard's 192nd Fighter Wing said on "60 Minutes" that they are unwilling to fly the Raptor because of the oxygen problems that have still not been solved by the Air Force.
F-22 pilots Capt. Josh Wilson, left, and Maj. Jeremy Gordon of the Virginia Air National Guard's 192nd Fighter Wing said on "60 Minutes" that they are unwilling to fly the Raptor because of the oxygen problems that have still not been solved by the Air Force. (60 Minutes)
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If you work with the F-22 and have experienced hypoxia-like or other unexplained symptoms, or if you know of someone who has experienced these symptoms, we'd like to hear from you. Please send comments to beverstine@airforcetimes.com. Your name will not be used without your permission.

Oxygen problems plaguing the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter are afflicting maintainers working on the plane — as well as pilots — with dizziness, nausea and other hypoxia-like symptoms, Air Force Times has learned.

At least five ground maintainers complained of illness between September and December, Air Combat Command spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis said in an Air Force Times article that hit the newsstands Monday. The maintainers grew sick after breathing in ambient air during ground engine runs, a congressional aide told Air Force Times.

The Air Force's investigation into the oxygen problems with the jet, which includes at least 11 cases of unexplained hypoxia-like incidents from pilots in the Raptor since its grounding was lifted in September, has expanded to look at the maintainer incidents, Gen. Mike Hostage, head of Air Combat Command, said in an April 30 media briefing.

The Air Force is in the process of providing maintainers with off-the-shelf canisters to trap and release air during maintenance if they experience breathing problems. The basketball-sized containers, called Summa canisters, measure the air quality around maintainers. They can take an air sample with the turn of a valve if maintainers smell or feel anything unusual.

"They're also used to collect air samples from the cockpit after in-flight incidents, although obviously there's a time delay involved there," Sholtis said.

The F-22's oxygen problems have been public since the Air Force grounded its fleet last year, but exploded into public view over the weekend when two National Guard pilots came forward to say they refused to fly the jet.

"I'm not comfortable flying in the F-22 right now," Maj. Jeremy Gordon, a pilot with the Virginia Air National Guard's 192nd Fighter Wing, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57427432/is-the-air-forces-f-22-fighter-jet-making-pilots-sick/?tag=contentMaincbsCarousel">told CBS' "60 Minutes" in a show aired Sunday.

The Air Force's investigation is led by a group of doctors, physiologists, analysts and engineers, said Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, the director of operations for ACC. Investigators are looking at everything from flight gear to physical fitness scores of those affected. So far, the investigation has failed to find a root cause, but has determined that pilots are either failing to get enough oxygen or are inhaling some type of contaminant.

"The smoking gun is disassembled in a mosaic in front of us," he said. "At some point, we're going to have the smoking gun assembled."

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