F-22 Raptor Flight Restrictions: Too Little, Too Late For Air Force Pilot

Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta enacted new flight restrictions and safety measures for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet after several pilots complained about the plane’s oxygen delivery system. The new restrictions come a year after Capt. Jeff Haney was killed in an F-22 crash, and more than two years after the first complaint.

Panetta has ordered for an automatic emergency back-up oxygen system to be added to all of the F-22 fighter jets. Haney’s sister Jennifer told ABC News that she was upset with the air force for waiting so long to make the decision.

“It would’ve saved Jeff’s life… My brother would be alive if this would’ve been something that was in the F-22 from the get-go. I can’t believe [the Air Force] thought that the system that they had was sufficient enough… That, to me, was just ignorant.”

ABC reports that Haney’s crash is believed to be the first related to the oxygen issues on the F-22. A year prior to Haney’s accident, however, pilots began experiencing “hypoxia-like symptoms” while flying the F-22.

The fleet of 188 F-22 jets, which costs an estimated $420 million per plane, will be flying close to airstrips for the time being until the new oxygen systems are put in place. US News reports that these new safety measures may not actually make any of the pilots more safe. Winslow Wheeler, with the Project On Government Oversight, said that the new restrictions “do nothing” to protect the pilots. Wheeler said:

“The restrictions imposed by [Secretary] Panetta do nothing to protect the pilots and ground crew from the increased toxicity that the data show they are experiencing. Panetta’s actions are essentially political moves to appear to be doing something in favor of the pilots while holding, above all else, the preservation of the F-22’s increasingly transparent clothing.”

US News reports that the decision to put distance restrictions on the jets, instead of grounding the entire fleet, gives the Air Force the opportunity to figure out what’s wrong with the planes.

The fleet was grounded for a few months last year as the Air Force investigated the problem. A solution was never found but the jets were cleared to resume flight.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said:

“The secretary believes that this is the prudent course right now. It allows us to continue to examine the aircraft closely and to try to figure out what happened. There’s a troubleshooting process that’s going on right now. So the aircraft being in operation assists in that process.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D.-Va.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.-Ill.) are currently working to make sure that no more fighter pilots are injured or killed due to the malfunctioning F-22. Kinzinger said: “If a pilot feels uncomfortable flying this aircraft, they shouldn’t be forced to.”

Do you think the F-22 will ever live up to its enormous price tag?