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F-22 Raptor Oxygen Problem: OBOGS and EOS Under the Microscope

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By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com

The following article is property of DefenseReview.com (DR) and is copyrighted material. If you are reading this article on another website other than DefenseReview.com, please email us the website address/URL (where the unauthorized DR article reprint is located) at defrev (at) gmail (dot) com. Thank you.

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.

© Copyright 2012 DefenseReview.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without receiving permission and providing proper credit and appropriate links.

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F-22 Raptor Oxygen Problem: OBOGS and EOS Under the Microscope by
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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Elliott/538819740 William Elliott

    As someone who has had to depend on mechanical breathing devices in the past [SCUBA] I can tell you right now, this is an UNACCEPTABLE situation.  MAYBE if making sure the OBOGS was running correctly was the pilot’s job [instead of, I don't know, flying the plane], I could see it being his fault, but add to it a backup air bottle that can’t be easily accessed in an emergency?  What, if he’d taken a cannon round or fragment from a missile through part of the OBOGS system during combat?  Hes supposed to fiddle with the damn O2 bottle in the middle of combat and high G manuvering while maintaining consiousness with no air?
    FIX THE DAMN BIRD and pay the widow for your damn incompetance in designing the freaking breathing system for the PILOT.

  • alexander card

    sorry but its now nearing  700 billion dollars for the f22 progam – it’s time to start lynching people

  • aviator3

    Has it occured to anyone that the OBOGS-related hypoxia issue might not be directly related to the OBOGS or the masks, but rather to elevated  levels of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere at the altitudes these plane regularly fly? There was a big study recently that proved a higher background concentration of these chemicals, the waste products of burning jet fuel, up in the flight levels. Then take a background level of this soup of nasty, noxious chemicals and then compress it from the approx 1 PSI or less at high altitude to a pressure that is breathable and you now have , say, seven to ten times the background level  And presto, poisoned pilots who look hypoxic but might not be.  Everybody is focused on hypoxia; maybe we need to focus on toxicity, which would present in very similar ways as hypoxia: dizziness, headaches, inability to concentrate, post-flightsymptoms like coughs (well known F-22 pilot complaint) and spinning rooms (vertigo). Raptor pilots  may have their hydration reduced on long flights, setting them up for similar symptoms of dehydration that may also be confused as related to hypoxia, particularly headaches and dizziness. Then add in the fact that when large high pressure air masses stall over the middle of the USD an southern Canada, background levels can become further elevated and are not refreshed by newer air masses. That would seem to exacerbate the above issues.

    I’d encourage other intelligent, interested peoples’ thoughts on this subject. To that end, feel free to contact Doug at d_mcintyre56 No morons or juvenile  web trolls, please. 

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