back to article Pilots asking not to fly F-22 after oxygen problems

Some of the US Air Force's top pilots are asking not to fly the highest-tech aircraft in the fleet over fears about the safety of the oxygen system built into the F-22 Raptor. "It's shocking to me as a fighter pilot and former commander of Air Combat Command that a pilot would decline to get into that airplane," retired four- …


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  1. Gene Cash Silver badge

    You can get the PDF of the Alaska accident report at

    It makes very interesting reading.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yo dudes...

    ... I'm sure there are lots of Air Force pilots drooling to replace the squeams who can't handle a bit of oxy dep in an F22. Meantime, I hear the puddle jumping commuter airlines are looking for a few good bus drivers.

    1. Chris Parsons

      Re: Yo dudes...

      We do see some moronic posts here, don't we?

  3. Field Commander A9

    Raptor is NOT the highest-tech aircraft

    Lighting III is.

    F-22 is simply the deadleist in A-A combat.

    But F-35 is an all-around more capable aircraft.

    1. TeraTelnet

      Re: Raptor is NOT the highest-tech aircraft

      It's the Lightning II, not III, just for clarity.

      1. Tom 260

        Re: Raptor is NOT the highest-tech aircraft

        And for muddiness, it's at least the 4th aircraft to have taken that name (P-38, English Electric, prototype YF-22, production F-35)... but yes, it is called the Lightning II (as was the YF-22)

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Is the Lightning 2 as good as Lightning

          Can it intercept U2s?

          Can it catch an airliner from behind while said airliner is supercruising?

          Can it climb at supersonic speeds?

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: Is the Lightning 2 as good as Lightning

            I fear you are comparing JSF with a wrong kind of Lightning. The Lightning you are talking about is the English Electric Lightning - a British machine. The Lightning No.1 in the US case was Lockheed P-38 Lightning - the one that was chasing the Japs over the Pacific in WWII.

          2. Ed 11

            Re: Is the Lightning 2 as good as Lightning

            My dad was a fast jet pilot in the RAF. He has never been easily excitable, but he doesn't half wax lyrical about his days at a Lightning pilot. His favorite story is that when he was based in Cyprus there'd occasionally be Friday's where they hadn't got all their flying hours in during the week. They used to light cigarettes in the crew room, jump in their jets, point the noses to the sky and engage the after burners. It was possible to empty the tanks, land, taxi back and still be able to finish your cigarette before it burnt out. Legend.

            1. Silverburn

              Re: Is the Lightning 2 as good as Lightning

              I get the same stories from my father in law. Full tanks + afterburners = swim in the sea 6 minutes later. Awesome.

              Or how they used to clear ice off the runways using the engine from a meteor, like a massive hair dryer. Which, if you focused on one spot too long, used to lift the tarmac right off.

              1. dotslash

                Re: Is the Lightning 2 as good as Lightning

                I love stories like that. We were so great at making things, never mind hey, nothing lasts forever.

            2. Yag

              "where they hadn't got all their flying hours in during the week."


              If you are lacking HOURS of flight, what is the point of doing such short flights?

              DISCLAIMER : I assume that the lightning was not going near relativistic speeds...

              1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

                Re: "where they hadn't got all their flying hours in during the week."

                @Yag what is the point of doing such short flights?

                A lot of high performance aircraft of this era were designed to fulfil the 'point interceptor' role, there mission profile was for the rapid intersection of Russian bombers either over the north sea, Canada or the Artic where they used their high rates of climb (typically only taking 2-3 minutes to reach 40,000 ft) and supersonic speeds to close with their targets and shoot them down with there relatively light load of 2 missiles.

                The modern concept of the multi-role air superiority fighter came much later.

            3. Anonymous Coward

              Re: Is the Lightning 2 as good as Lightning

              One of the very first Lightning squadron pilots, John Houghton, had this to say after his first flight in the aircraft.

              "I was with it all the way until I let the brakes off......."

              Sadly the consequences of Sandys 1957 myopia meant that the Lightning was never developed and its weapon system hardly advanced during its years in service.

              Watching a rotation takeoff was an experience. Two Lightnings did this at Mildenhall in the late 80s, climbing into a blue sky on their departure while everyone was queueing to get out in their cars. Even the following F-15 couldn't catch them up despite it being 20+ years newer in concept.

            4. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

              Re: Is the Lightning 2 as good as Lightning

              @Ed 11

              So that was probably the Lightning F6 your dad was flying, that's 'F' for fuel, '6' for 6-minutes worth.

    2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Raptor is NOT the highest-tech aircraft

      "But F-35 is an all-around more capable aircraft."

      I don't kno, I've already seen it brought down twice in compbat, each time by a single man jumping on top of it with little more than a hand gun. No wonder the entire JSF programme is in such a mess!

      What do you mean, Die Hard IV and Avengers Assemble were not documentaries???

    3. Bill Neal

      Re: Raptor is NOT the highest-tech aircraft

      Aside from the optional tail hook & VTOL, what does the Lightning have that the F-22 doesn't? the electronics, much like everything else was borrowed from the F-22 design and made smaller/cheaper. & they are still trying to figure out how to keep the lightning from falling apart.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This is an IT relevant story but sadly El Reg missed it ... you might want to ask yourselves why there are O2 problems ...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fail!

      Lack of investment in densly populated area, usually with 3G connectivly...

      Oh that O2

  5. Dries Marais

    F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia

    What both the manufacturers and the USAF (amazingly) refuse to accept is that the onset of annoxia (low oxygen partial pressure) is an insidious process which is NOT noted by the pilot, particularly at high altitude where the condition rapidly transits to hypoxia (lack of oxygen).

    One of the first results of annoxia is a "good feeling" - "I'm okay and I'm doing just fine".

    That translates to "I do NOT know that I am suffering from a lack of oxygen". And the pilot probably does NOT know. That faculty of the brain which deals with self criticism and self evaluation and evaluation of options by default needs a 100% oxygen flow to realize it is not receiving 100% oxygen. The dichotomy must be clear.

    The workload in a fighter cockpit is high. If the aircraft was engaged in route flying on auto pilot like passenger jets then maybe the pilot would realise a problem was occurring. High "G" maneuvring against an adversary in combat causes hyperventilation. If this hyperventilated intake is lacking in oxygen then consciousness is lost before the human being would have been able to even recognize his dilemma.

    Now the emergency oxygen appears to be from that small cylinder which is attached to the ejection seat to allow the pilot to remain conscious should he need to eject at altitude: in such an instance he remains in the ejection seat down to about 16,000 ft above sea level before separating and when his 'chute opens.

    To expect that the semi-unconscious pilot would a) recognize his hypoxic condition, b) remembers where the difficult to reach lever of the seat cylinder is, c) reach down and activate it, d) wait for his condition to stabilize, all during a 40,000 ft per minute dive and before impact is somewhat reckless. Particularly if there IS a known design problem with the main oxygen generation system - but pilots are being criticized for not activating the emergency system when this known fault in the main system occurs. They simply can not.

    This is a dangerous, unprecedented design error.

    1. Dave Bell

      Re: F-22 and Anoxia / Hypoxia

      What I remember is John Noakes getting training from the RAF before making a high-altitude parachute jump. They gave him experience of anoxia, in a way that demonstrated just how much he didn't realise he was suffering the effects.

      I'm not claiming to be any sort of expert, but that memory makes me wonder what's wrong with the higher ranks in the USAF. Not every pilot would make a good ngeneral, but that's why you need pilots in the higher ranks. Or maybe Blue Peter viewers.

    2. Wombling_Free

      Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia

      "This is a dangerous, unprecedented design error."

      The OBOGS is the design error. Apart from a stupid acronym (Would you fly in an aircraft, no matter how good, if the avionics suite was designated EL-CHEAPO-CLUSTERFUK?) it's clear that whatever chemical-based tech they are using (some nasty peroxides most likely) doesn't like either high altitude operation, negative Gs, positive Gs, vibration, heat, cold or all of the above. Or was built by the cheapest bidder, and is overly complex and difficult to maintain, is poorly cooled so it overheats, has pipes and ducting made out of incompatible materials which corrode etc. etc. etc. all the REALLY BASIC STUFF engineers are meant to take into account for a mission-critical item.

      If and when the details of the faults in the OBOGS are revealed, they will of course be obvious, simple and likely down to the kind of faults RR have in their A380 engines (bad bearings in that case - probably an $800 part out of an $8x10^6 engine)

      When it comes down to it, the whole bloody F22 is a design error - it only won the competition due to pork-barreling.

      1. Wombling_Free

        Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia


        Electronic Logistic Computer Helping to Enhance Aerodynamic Position Options in Combat with Live User Selected Target Evasion, Return Fire and Unpredictable jinKing.

        No more unlikely than any other acronym I've seen.

        1. melt

          Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia

          That's genius!

        2. Aqua Marina
          Thumb Up

          Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia


        3. KirstarK

          Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia

          You deserve an award or that :)

        4. TimeMaster T

          Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia

          Contrived Unsuitable Technical Names for Projects with the Acronym as Sole Target for the Effort.

          aka CUTNPASTE naming.

      2. paulc

        Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia

        OBOGS is NOT new technology... and you do NOT need chemicals for it either... Use a MSOC (Molecular Sieve Oxygen Concentrator) for concentrating the oxygen from the engine bleed air supply. What is the problem here is that the system itself is not responding to a reduced concentration of oxygen in the supply to the pilot and raising an alarm... there are basic design errors here that should have been picked up in the design process...

        1. paulc

          Re: F-22 and Annoxia / Hypoxia

          Further to my above. After reading through the mishap report... it is my firm belief that they were desperate to blame the pilot and not the aircraft design...

          "By clear and convincing evidence, I find the cause of the mishap was the MP's failure to

          recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of

          visual scan and unrecognized spatial disorientation."

          That conclusion is rubbish... the OBOGS should have been designed with a back-up oxygen supply (bottled oxygen) which should have activated when the OBOGS FAIL caption triggered. And the Emergency Oxygen Supply activation design was a disaster waiting to happen... that ring and wedge design is monumentally stuffed up...

          The pilot was doing what he was supposed to do, following the checklist, and most likely lost consciousness while desperately trying to activate the EOS in the dark with the ring down in the worst possible place to put it... By the time he recovered consciousness and started the recovery maneuver, it was too late to pull out...

          PS. The oxygen system on the aircraft I work with is an OBOGS system and it has a Back-up Oxygen Supply (BOS) that is automatically activated if the OBOGS warning is triggered. The BOS can also be manually activated by the pilot by a normal guarded switch selection (lift cover, operate switch). In addition to the OBOGS and BOS, each pilot also has a bottle emergency oxygen supply which is automatically activated upon ejection and can also be manually activated by the pilot by simply lifting a guillotine type handle at the front left edge of his seat... (very easy to find and easy to activate when required...).

  6. amanfromearth
    Thumb Down

    "We are generally aware of a small number of pilots who have expressed reservations about flying the F-22, and each of those cases will be handled individually through established processes,"

    Court martial then..

  7. Vendicar Decarian1

    Is there NOTHING that America can do right?

    1. Wombling_Free

      Think about it...


    2. Andus McCoatover


      Got blokes to the moon. Maybe.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yeah.

        > Got blokes to the moon. Maybe.

        They needed a German to help them do that...

      2. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        Re: Yeah.

        Got blokes to the moon

        But look what happened on Apollo 13, the CO2 filters in the LEM were a different shape from the ones in the command module and they had to jury rig a Heath Robinson contraption out manual covers and duct tape to use the command module filters in the LEM.

    3. NogginTheNog

      Design iPods!

      Oh no hang on... ;-)

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. TimeMaster T

      I know ...

      One thing Americans can do right every time on the first try.

      Fuck things up.

      Mines the one with the US passport in the pocket.

  8. Evil Auditor Silver badge


    While staying in air-raid shelters several meters under ground we used to have a "candle guard" - the theory was that the candle needs a higher percentage of oxygen to burn than soldiers needed to survive. How difficult can it be to put a candle in the cockpit?

    Yeah, mine's the one without the air force badge...

    1. Dries Marais

      Re: Solution

      The sensor will have to be in the pilot's oxygen mask. BUT: there has never been an oxygen supply problem with any fighter ever before so the need for supply sensors was not needed and should never be needed.

      Like the engine, the oxygen supply should not stop suddenly. Full stop.

      1. Vic

        Re: Solution

        > The sensor will have to be in the pilot's oxygen mask.

        That's not difficult. O2 sensors are small and light.

        Might be interesting getting one to work at high-G, though :-)


    2. Wombling_Free

      Re: Solution

      Well clearly a candle would be dangerously stupid in fighter cockpit.

      I suggest using a canary instead.

      Ok, you don't have to shove, I'm leaving!

      1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: Solution

        @Wombling_Free: well, we also tried it with canaries. Problem was, the canaries went a bit frantic when we lit them.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: the canaries went a bit frantic when we lit them.

          Have you put the cat out?

          Sorry; I didn't know it was on fire/

          <queuing up for the cloakroom>

          1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

            Re: the canaries went a bit frantic when we lit them.

            Have you put the cat out?

            Sorry; I didn't know it was on fire/

            <queuing up for the cloakroom>

            STOP THAT!! Certainly, which way did it go?

            Damm, I've lost my cloakroom ticket.

      2. stu 4

        Re: Solution

        genius - and as long as it kep flying it would add no weight to the aircraft.....

        1. Slate

          Re: Solution (stu4 @09:44GMT)

          I think that is only true if the canopy is open. It would add weight if it inside a closed space.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. bitmap animal

    Interesting BBC documentry about altitude

    The BBC did a programme called To Boldly Go which looked into the body at altitude. I already knew quite a lot about what happens and he missed out some elements I'd thought important (such as why you really should have a pressure suit above 65k feet) but overall well worth watching.

    Military pilots don't just hop into their 'office', they are highly trained in the technicalities of flight and the body so should be able to make a good judgement call. There is always risks in military flying but the pilot does deserve an airworthy plane at the very least.

    1. LAGMonkey
      Thumb Up

      Re: Interesting BBC documentry about altitude

      Thanks for the link, I don't mind watching these types of programs although i do know about partial pressures etc due to SCUBA diving with Enriched Air (Nitrox).

    2. Colin Wilson 2

      Re: Interesting BBC documentry about altitude

      (... why you really should have a pressure suit above 65k feet ...)

      It's strange to think that Concorde flew every day for years and years at 60k feet, supercruising faster than any F-22 with 100 passengers and no pressure suits, oxygen masks or anything. Just Gins & Tonics

      1. Vic

        Re: Interesting BBC documentry about altitude

        > Just Gins & Tonics

        Well, there you have it. The F22 is not equipped with a G&T device, and is therefore at risk.

        This would appear to be a very serious omission indeed, if you ask me.


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Re: Interesting BBC documentry about altitude

        Yes, but there was fairly stupendous airflow into the cabin available when needed and the Concs have very small windows to reduce the cabin pressure loss rate in the event of a window failure.

        It's all there in Trubby's books.

  10. Wombling_Free

    Would the F23 have had the same problems?

    Just asking....

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Would the F23 have had the same problems?

      Probably not, it would have had New and Exciting problems :)

      1. Magnus_Pym

        Re: Would the F23 have had the same problems?

        "Probably not, it would have had New and Exciting problems :)"

        No. It would have had New and Exciting Opportunities

        1. Slabfondler

          Re: Would the F23 have had the same problems?

          Re: Would the F23 have had the same problems?

          ""Probably not, it would have had New and Exciting problems :)""

          "No. It would have had New and Exciting Opportunities"

          Features, we call them features.

          I read that report as well, okay skimmed it mostly. Looks like they lost a very very good pilot and an extremely expensive bit of kit, now I think they'll lose a lawsuit.

  11. Christopher Slater-Walker

    Established processes?

    If requests not to fly the latest aircraft are unprecedented, how can there be an "established" process for dealing with such requests?

    1. graeme leggett Silver badge

      Re: Established processes?

      Long established.

      '' a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to..."

      Heller, Catch-22

    2. Ty Cobb
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Established processes?

      Unfortunately, that would be a court martial for failure to obey a general order or regulation, article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Frequent USAF logic is the meatbag is the problem, not the equipment.

      With regards to Hypoxia, aircrew in the US are required to be exposed to an Altitude Chamber and see the onset of symptoms they manifest. Rapid loss of pressure is an easy determination; colder interior, fogging , banging noises (such as when the overboard valve on the E3 I was on went fully open), losing peripheral vision, etc. The frequency of training was every 4 years when I retired. Slow leaks sneak up on you, and are more often fatal.

    3. TimeMaster T

      Re: Established processes?

      It the Military.

      they have a process on the books for how to take a piss.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's unfortunate

    It's unfortunate that these issues happen but unless there is negligence involved, then law suits should not be allowed. Hopefully they can identify the true issue(s) and resolve them. The last that I heard it was an odor issue not a lack of oxygen that was the real issue.

    1. b166er

      Re: It's unfortunate

      I thought CO was odourless :/

      1. Circadian

        Re: It's unfortunate

        "I thought CO was odourless :/" - no, it's the cover-up that stinks

  13. Craig McGill 1

    No one gone for the obvious Top Gun song reference?

    It's a bad day when good taste is getting in here...

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: No one gone for the obvious Top Gun song reference?

      Erm... isn't that what the subhead is all about...?

  14. JimmyPage

    Remember what Alan Shepard said ...

    According to Gene Kranz in his book, Failure Is Not an Option, "When reporters asked Shepard what he thought about as he sat atop the Redstone rocket, waiting for liftoff, he had replied, 'The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.'"


  15. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    'The Right Stuff'

    I remember reading 'The Right Stuff', and how all the test pilots basically blamed pilot error for almost any crash. I think it was 5 parts ego (I can fly anything) and 5 parts fear - what if the plane I'm in is an unflyable deathtrap? Best deny it, and blame the pilot.

    Fighter pilots don't suffer from a lack of ego or self-confidence. But I guess a problem that's definitely with the plane and no amount of piloting skill can solve, is something they just don't want to think about.

    Not that flying is as dangerous as back then. The Luftwaffe had something like 900 F104s and crashed 300 of them! Losing 115 pilots. link

    Here's a list: German F104 crashes

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: 'The Right Stuff'

      True enough.

      Look at automatic belay devices for climbers. Statistically safer than a human buddy, but there's something about the randomness of failure that really makes them frightening. Yeah, my buddy's more likely to drop me, but at least there's some notion of "control" in human error.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'The Right Stuff'

      > The Luftwaffe had something like 900 F104s and crashed 300 of them!

      Bit of a special case this; the crews had minimal training in unrepresentative conditions, the aircraft was inappropriate for the role (and was a bit shit anyway) and allegedly the only reason that it was in service with the Luftwaffe at all was to do with a German defence minister, Lockheed and a $10million bribe....

      1. Trevor Marshall

        Re: 'The Right Stuff'

        In the words of Robert Calvert from 'Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters'

        "Catch a falling Starfighter

        Put it in the pocket of your jeans

        You can use it as a cigarette lighter

        Or as an opener for a can of beans"

        1. graeme leggett Silver badge

          Re: 'The Right Stuff'

          Lots of quotable lines.

          "G for Germany. Herr Minister. Und Gott strafe England".

          How do you get a Starfighter? Buy an plot of land and wait. (ok I mangled that last one)

      2. Davidoff

        The aircraft was inappropriate for the role (and was a bit shit anyway)

        No, it wasn't. The F-104G was actually quite good in the A/S role, also thanks to (for its time) quite capable avionics and RADAR suite, and was a huge improvement over the underpowered F-86 it succeeded.

        It wasn't a stellar dog fighter, though, mainly because of the huge turning radius, and because of the combination of high fuel consumption and small fuel tanks.

        1. hayseed

          Re: The aircraft was inappropriate for the role (and was a bit shit anyway)

          Um, that plane had blown flaps just to get down to safe landing speeds!

          1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
            Paris Hilton

            blown flaps

            Eh, that warrants a Paris Icon, or is that fowler flaps I'm thinking of?

    3. Davidoff

      Re: 'The Right Stuff'

      "The Luftwaffe had something like 900 F104s and crashed 300 of them! Losing 115 pilots."

      Yes, but then later they sold the remaining aircraft to the Italians who apparently managed to loose close to 50% of their fleet through crashes ,-)

      But at least for the Germans the main problem was training (pilots were trained and then spend one or two years on a desk until they were allowed to fly) and some oddities in the aircraft's design (of which many have been improved later on).

      But the main thing with the F-104 is that, even compared with other fast-jets, everything in this bird is going so fast that it requires a very focused pilot to avoid the aircraft outrunning its driver. The F-104 also doesn't forgive, and punishes complacency.

      I enjoyed every minute in it.

  16. David Gosnell

    A negative article about the F-22?!

    I thought for a moment Lewis had had an epiphany... no, different author!

    1. RainForestGuppy

      Re: A negative article about the F-22?!

      I'm sure Lewis will link it to BAE, even if it's a junior technician at the O2 system supplier who has a brother-in-law who know somebody down the pub who works at BAE.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: A negative article about the F-22?!

      Lewis is currently receiving oxygen from the paramedics.... ;-)

  17. Great Bu

    Lemons ?

    Isn't it traditional to bite on a lemon wedge as you asphyxiate (after you have 'launched your payload' ).

    Or am I thinking of something else altogether ?

  18. KirstarK

    Wot no Lewis ?

    Interesting that Lewis didn't write this article.

    Would love to be there at reg cenral watching him twitch as an article with critique of the F22.

    I know maybe the F22 can use the O2 system from the Eurofighter

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    too expensive to risk in a war

    thinking back to the Dreadnought era, would any of these things even be in the air if the perceived opponents had a way to counter them?

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: too expensive to risk in a war

      Didn't the battleships get a lot of mileage in? Most of those sunk in round II were sunk from the air, but the British and Germans and US and Japanese actually had some ship-to-ship battles. Or are you thinking of the Kaiser's reluctance to risk his fleet (and ultimately the enlisted sailors' distaste for the grand suicidal gesture0?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Captain Jeff "BONG" Haney?

    Are we SURE oxygen starvation was the real reason he passed out?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poor Lewis

    All this American bashing...

    Won't anyone think of the poor Lewis?? Shame on us all!


  22. adam payne

    After reading the accident report it seems to me they don't want to take any responsibility what so ever. They are firmly putting this one on the pilot.

    When the pilot apparently started the dive what is to say he hadn't lost consciousness already and the dive was a result of that.

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