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ACC head: F-22 problems traced to physiology

Sep. 20, 2012 - 06:33AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 20, 2012 - 06:33AM  |  
The head of Air Combat Command on Wednesday said F-22 pilots will be trained on how to physiologically react to oxygen issues while flying the stealthy fighter, in addition to steps taken to mitigate the problems that have been plaguing the jet
The head of Air Combat Command on Wednesday said F-22 pilots will be trained on how to physiologically react to oxygen issues while flying the stealthy fighter, in addition to steps taken to mitigate the problems that have been plaguing the jet (Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock / U.S. Air Force)
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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The head of Air Combat Command on Wednesday said F-22 pilots will be trained on how to physiologically react to oxygen issues while flying the stealthy fighter, in addition to steps taken to mitigate the problems that have been plaguing the jet.

Gen. Mike Hostage said at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference that the main problem with the F-22 is "human physiology," not a hardware issue in the jet.

"There wasn't any flaw in the airplane," Hostage said.

In July, the Air Force said it had identified the primary root cause of physiological incidents that had been plaguing Raptor pilots as a faulty valve in the pilot's Combat Edge life support vest. The valve connects to the plane's oxygen supply and inflates the vest. The faulty valve was constricting the pilots' breathing, and a fix is scheduled to be in place by the end of the year.

Last week, Air Force officials reiterated the valve as the main root cause in a House Armed Services tactical air subcommittee hearing.

"The path to resuming normal flight operations hinges on the successful development, testing and fielding of the modified Combat Edge upper pressure garment valve," Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, the chief of operations for ACC, said at the hearing. "This modification will successfully integrate the key component of the F-22 life support system to ensure adequate oxygen flows to the pilot while providing protection in the high altitude and high-G environments where the F-22 flies."

Hostage on Wednesday said the problem is "human frailty," and that officials are working on adjusting the airplane. The service will "train our aviators that the issue is work of breathing," Hostage told Air Force Times following the conference.

The F-22 operates in a higher flight envelope than any other fighter, into the realm of the U-2 and SR-71, which had its pilots fly in spacesuits that cannot be used in the Raptor.

"The good news is the community is on track and excited about the airplane," Hostage said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh on Tuesday expressed his confidence in the F-22, telling convention attendees to not believe what they hear about F-22 pilots not wanting to fly. The F-22 is fully deployable and has been sent to southwest Asia and Japan. The F-22s are taking part in the Valiant Shield exercise at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

"It's amazing," said Hostage, who has personally been flying the F-22 during the safety investigation. "The best thing about it is our adversaries watch it carefully, and it scares the hell out of them."

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