By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
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April 24, 2012
Last updated on 5/04/12.
F-22 pilots might just have to start bringing their own oxygen supplies with them on sorties if the "experts" can't figure out what the hell is going on with OBOGS. On March 30, 2012 Military.com published an article by Michael Hoffman titled "F-22 Oxygen Problem Still Eluding Investigators" about the F-22 Raptor's problematic OBOGS and EOS systems as they relate to a November 16, 2012 F-22 Raptor crash. "OBOGS" stands for "On-board Oxygen Generation System" or "On-board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS)", depending who's writing about it, and "EOS" stands for "Emergency Oxygen System". It's being reported that the good folks at Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney, et al can't determine what exactly is causing the OBOGS malfunction, nor can they reproduce it. According to Hoffman, "pilots continue to periodically report suffering hypoxia-like symptoms, or "physiological incidents", which occur when not enough oxygen reaches the brain." How many pilots? 14 pilots. 14 F-22 Raptor pilots, no less.
The kicker is that the U.S. Air Force Accident Investigation Board (AIB) had already determined that the November 16, 2012 F-22 crash was the fault of the aircraft's pilot, one Capt. Jeff "Bong" Haney, despite the fact that the aircraft's bleed air intakes malfunctioned, in turn causing the OBOGS system to shut down. The OBOGS system shutting down then caused Capt. Haney to experience hypoxia. So, fix the bleed air intake problem and we're good, right? Not so fast. Gen. Charles Lyon, Air Combat Command director of operations is on record stating the following: “We have not found the root cause, but what I’m committed to is we will not leave any stone unturned." Huh? Lyon continued, “We will use every discipline that is available, every form of study and form of discipline to get at this problem.” So, did the bleed air intakes malfunction or not, and if so, what caused them to malfunction? If they didn't malfunction, what caused the OBOGS shutdown?
As if a problem with the Raptor's bleed air intakes and OBOGS isn't enough, Haney couldn't successfully engage the EOS, either. DefenseNews reported in a December 14, 2011, article titled "USAF Board Blames Pilot, Not Oxygen System, in F-22 Crash" that the Raptor's EOS system is "notoriously difficult to use in the Raptor", according to pilots. Haney's fate was seemingly sealed when he was unable to pull the small handle that would have activated the Emergency Oxygen System and did not eject, his only remaining option.
During Haney's uncontrolled dive, he didn't make any corrective actions for 30 seconds even though his aircraft had rolled 240 degrees and dropped to a 53-degree nose-down attitude. That's certainly not normal F-22 Raptor pilot behavior. It is, however, likely the behavior of someone with unrecognized spatial disorientation, according to the AIB. So, based on the AIB's findings, Haney definitely experienced hypoxia, definitely struggled for air, and his behavior "suggests he had unrecognized spatial disorientation"–and yet they somehow still determined the crash was his fault.
The DefenseNews article has all the details on the AIB's findings.
According to Hoffman, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told Congress on March 6 that the Air Force “did not assign blame to the pilot.” Well, that's good, except that Lyon "reiterated Thursday the Accident Investigation Board concluded that Haney should have been able to save the aircraft."
It's Defense Review's opinion that while it's of course possible that both a systems malfunction AND pilot error either caused or contributed to the crash, the Air Force must give the benefit of the doubt to the pilot when you have a bleed air intake system that's potentially "a single point of failure", a definite OBOGS shutdown, and the EOS is badly positioned in "a difficult-to-reach spot behind the pilot." Obviously, the bleed air intake/OBOGS system needs to be scrutinized and fixed if necessary, and the EOS needs to be redesigned pronto.
It's also our opinion that it's unacceptable that neither the U.S. Air Force nor any of the F-22's manufacturers can give a definitive answer on both the root cause of the oxygen system failure (bleed air intake system malfunction?) AND the solution to that problem after a year and a half of study, especially since the aircraft is so gargantuanly expensive (415M per unit?) and it took them so many years to develop and field the Raptor in the first place. It's mind-boggling, actually. How is a system so intrinsic and crucial to pilot survival not perfected over that many years of Raptor development? Isn't that the whole argument behind the U.S. Air Force's current fighter aircraft development and procurement processes in the first place, to field a perfect plane right out of the gate? How did they not get the OBOGS and EOS systems right?
Capt. Haney's wife is of course suing all the contractors involved, and we're guessing th case will be settled.
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The dogfight over the F-22A Raptor (RedState)
Air Force budget: Little money, no F-22 Raptors (Stars and Stripes)
White House Aero-Hit-List #3: F-22 Raptor Fighter Aircraft (The Aero-News Network)