As the F-22 grounding enters its fourth month, pilots are losing proficiency on the fifth generation stealth fighter, as they are unable to meet the required number of flight hours each month.
The Air Force Times reports Air Force Vice Chief General Philip Breedlove as saying that pilots, despite ongoing simulator training, can’t maintain their currency in the F-22.
Raptor pilots are required to fly a certain number of sorties every month to stay current, but because the Raptors are grounded, those who were destined to begin flying the F-22 have been told to return to their home bases. Pilots just learning to fly the Raptor are limited to simulator flights, but there are only two F-22 simulator complexes, one at Langley Air Force Base and another Tyndall AFB. Even the elite pilots at the US Air Force Weapons School have been told to return to their home bases during the grounding.
If a pilot has not flown in seven months, he or she will have to start the training procedure over again. “Certainly, as we restart training we’ll have to regain those currencies just like in any other grounding of any other aircraft,” Breedlove said.
Each F-22 wing is developing a shortened requalification program to accommodate the grounded pilots, the Air Force Times story said.
“Once the designated number of sorties have been flown to achieve requalification, all pilots must fly their regular number of monthly sorties and commanders will then declare when their unit is sufficiently trained and ready for various taskings,” said Air Combat Command (ACC) spokesperson Captain Jennifer Ferrau.
The Air Force grounded its entire fleet of 165 F-22 Raptors, out of 187 on order, following a stand down from May 3 after reports of “oxygen system malfunctions” that could have caused pilot hypoxia (oxygen starvation).
There have been nine suspected cases of hypoxia during F-22 operations since mid-2008, and recently there have been 14 recorded OBOGS incidents up until the stand down.
Air Force officials say the onboard oxygen generating system (OBOGS) may have been a factor in the crash of an F-22 in November last year. Captain Jeff Haney was killed when his F-22 crashed into the ground on November 16 during a night training flight with another F-22.
Since January, Raptors had been kept at altitudes below 25 000 feet during the ongoing investigation in order to lessen the risk in case the oxygen system did indeed cause the crash. If the OBOGS failed at 25 000 feet pilots would have time to recover to lower altitudes where there is enough oxygen in the atmosphere. This is not the case when the aircraft flies at its 50 000 feet ceiling.
Late last month it emerged that F-22 pilots may have been suffering the effects of toxins ingested during flight as particulates from hot oil, burned antifreeze and propane turned up in blood samples of pilots from six out of seven F-22 bases.
Air Force officials could not say when the F-22 will return to the air.
Because of the grounding, Lockheed Martin has been unable to deliver newly built F-22s to the Air Force since pilots cannot flight test each aircraft as it leaves the factory. Similarly, government test pilots cannon fly their acceptances flights as new aircraft are readied for delivery. Lockheed last delivered an F-22 at the end of June and was scheduled to completed deliveries by December.
At the moment all of the US Air Force’s fifth generation fighters are grounded as the F-35 fleet was ordered to stop flying following an electrical failure earlier this week.