United States Air Force pilots have been flying the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor for quite a while now.
The air superiority fighter entered into service with the United States Air Force in December of 2005 and each carries a rather steep price tag of about $150 million. Lockheed Martin hails the aircraft as the first and only fifth-generation fighter in operation today which is capable of launching attacks against both air and ground targets.
Then again, the aircraft hasn't been without its problems. Notably last year the entire F-22 fleet was placed on stand down after several instances of what the military termed hypoxia-like symptoms in pilots.
The symptoms are believed to have contributed to the loss of at least one aircraft by some pilots. While the fleet was grounded an investigation was conducted in conjunction with Lockheed Martin to determine what was causing the hypoxia-like symptoms.
Ultimately, although no conclusive determination was reached (the onboard oxygen generation system is suspected) the F-22 fleet returned to the skies.
This weekend, 60 Minutes will feature two F-22 pilots who say they are no longer comfortable flying the high-performance fighter. One pilot is Major Jeremy Gordon and the other is Captain Josh Wilson. Both pilots are speaking out for the first time on the news program as whistleblowers under the protection of US Representative Adam Kensinger. Both pilots haven't flown the F-22 since last January and Wilson says, "I think we need to reassess why we got back in the air in the first place."
Both pilots are among those who have experienced hypoxia while flying the aircraft. Hypoxia is the lack of oxygen that can lead to severe disorientation during flight and potentially lead to a fatal accident. Wilson said, "This is something strapped to my face under which I have no control of what’s coming through that tube, which means there may be a point when I don’t have control over myself when I’m flying."
When Gordon was asked if the aircraft was safe to fly he said, "I’m not comfortable answering that question. I’m not comfortable flying in the F-22 right now." Illustrating that point is a story Gordon tells of an F-22 pilot flying an entire mission without realizing he hit a tree during the flight.
Wilson also talks about his experience with hypoxia while flying the F-22, "It was…kind of a surreal experience,” he says. He notes that it took "immense concentration" to perform simple tasks. He said, "[I tried to pull the emergency oxygen ring] I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t remember what part of the aircraft it was in."