Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Entire F-22A Fleet at Major Risk
The 195th and final F-22A Raptor rolled off of Lockheed's Marietta plant on May 2nd. (187 in service with the rest as test planes or crashes) With the final Raptor soon to be entering service, major problems concerning the F-22's on board oxygen generating system still loom over the jet. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, two raptor pilots shed light on the ongoing problems pilots have been experiencing with the on board oxygen generating system provided by Honeywell. (link to interview provided bellow) Around 18% of pilots have been experiencing hypoxia like symptoms resulting from a lack of oxygen. America's entire raptor fleet was grounded for a period of 5 months in order to find a solution to the problem. Even with some of this nation's best engineers and outside collaboration with NASA the USAF was unable to find the "smoking gun". Raptor pilots have since returned to service and are still at risk. Raptor pilots have been restricted from flying above 25,000 feet.
This situation is completely unacceptable. Although the Raptor force is small, it constitutes a major part of America's overall Air to Air combat capabilities. Lockheed Martin has a history of manufacturing and designing some of the finest aircraft ever built e.g. U-2, SR-71, F-117, C-130, etc. This fact makes the current problem all the more infuriating. Lockheed has failed to deliver on the product it adverted and U.S national security has been jeopardized as a result. Lockheed must pursue the solution to the OBOGS on its own funds (US Government gave Lockheed $24 million dollars to find the cause of the problem). The USAF has taken apart the Raptor piece by piece in order to find the problem and has come up empty handed.
One of the many mysteries of this problem lies in the fact that the OBOGS system utilized by the F-22A is a proven system using technology that has been in use for decades. Honeywell has provided similar systems for the B-1B, B-2, F-35, F/A-18E, Eurofighter Typhoon, SAAB Gripen, etc. In fact, Honeywell has provided over 10,000 OBOGS systems to air forces world wide. No other OBOGS problems within the USAF have been reported recently from other jets. At this point, the only solution might be to scrap the current OBOGS in the Raptor entirely and replace it with a new system in the hopes that the problem is with the current system.
This entire spectacle points to unmanned systems being the future of combat aircraft. The biological human component is the weak link in the system. Inherent biological limitations prevent pilots from taking full advantage of what the F-22 has to offer and even operating the F-22 effectively in the first place.
60 Minutes F-22A pilot interview (I highly recommend watching this clip):
More information on Honeywell On board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS)
Image Credit: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ja676MG45Zg/TGZoO-UCR5I/AAAAAAAAEdY/ZY-oh6a4tNw/s1600/f22-raptor-sonic-boom-001.jpg