Maj. Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger said the two Raptor pilots who have refused to fly the F-22 are protected under the federal whistle-blower act. (Air Force)
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The top leaders of the Air Force have issued a directive that whistle-blowing F-22 pilots will be protected and not face repercussions for coming forward, a three-star general told lawmakers Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, the military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and soon to take over Air Force Materiel Command, said the service considers the two pilots who have refused to fly the Raptor to be whistle-blowers and protected under the federal whistle-blower act.
"My understanding is that the chief and secretary have issued direction that these individuals are protected," Wolfenbarger said at a Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee hearing on tactical air forces.
Two F-22 pilots with the Virginia Air National Guard, Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Josh Wilson, told CBS' "60 Minutes" that they do not feel safe flying the jet due to a string of unexplained hypoxia-like incidents in the jet. The Air Force grounded the F-22 from May to September last year; since then, 11 pilots and five maintainers have complained of hypoxia — oxygen deprivation that can result in dizziness, confusion, and, in some cases, unconsciousness — Air Combat Command spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis said.
Wolfenbarger, who has been confirmed as the Air Force's first female four-star general and will take over AFMC in June, said it is the Air Force's position that the jet is safe to fly based on a list of risk-mitigation efforts and education and training on the jet.
"With recent data, we believe we are coming to closure on that root cause," she said.
"But, that doesn't mean we are done with all the activities to find that root cause," Wolfenbarger added.