HAMPTON, Va. – Some of the nation’s 200 F-22 Raptor pilots want to be moved into other jobs because of oxygen-deficit problems with the stealth fighter, an Air Force leader said Monday.
Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, told reporters that a “very small” number of pilots have asked not to fly the fifth-generation fighter jets or to be reassigned.
“Obviously it’s a very sensitive thing because we are trying to ensure that the community fully understands all that we’re doing to try to get to a solution,” Hostage said.
He did not provide figures on the number of pilots who have asked to not fly the jets and said each pilot’s request would be handled individually.
In all, 15 Raptors are assigned to Nellis Air Force Base in the north Las Vegas Valley. They are flown by the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron and the 433rd Weapons Squadron.
Air Force officials think the airplane is safe to fly. Hostage noted that he will fly one of the planes soon because he won’t ask a pilot to do something that he will not.
The nation’s F-22 fighter jets were grounded for four months last year after pilots complained of experiencing a lack of oxygen that can cause dizziness and blackouts. Air Force officials said they have taken steps against the problem but still haven’t pinpointed what is causing the hypoxialike symptoms. Hypoxia is when the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen.
Raptor pilots from six bases, including Nellis, were among those who investigators think were exposed to toxins or conditions in the aircraft’s life-support system that reduced oxygen levels in their blood during flight.
An Air Force panel is meeting weekly to investigate the problem and has enlisted the help of NASA and the Navy .
Hostage spoke during a media day event at the base, highlighting the nation’s most advanced fighter plane. After being introduced in 2005, the last of nearly 190 jets are scheduled to be delivered to the Air Force this week.
At a price tag of $143 million each, the Raptor has come under criticism for not being used in place of older and less-sophisticated jets in Iraq or Afghanistan.
On Monday, Iran’s defense minister said that reports of the stealth fighter jet being deployed to the United Arab Emirates would damage regional security, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
Without saying which country in the region the F-22s were deployed to – or which base or bases they were deployed from – Hostage said there is a reason other nations take note of the plane’s movements.
“People pay attention to where this airplane goes and what it does because, regardless of the furor in our press and public about the suitability or the safety of the airplane, they’re very worried about its capability. That, to me, means we’re on the right path with this capability,” he said .
Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Keith Rogers contributed to this report.