The U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin Corp a contract to retrofit 40 F-22 fighter aircraft with an automatic backup oxygen supply after some pilots experienced oxygen deprivation when flying the supersonic plane.
The contract is worth $19 million, runs through April 2013, and includes retrofitting 10 spare aircraft. Currently oxygen supply requires manual activation by the F-22 Raptor pilot.
The Pentagon last month announced new safety precautions for its F-22 fighter jets, after a five-month grounding last year, but said it did not rule out grounding the aircraft again, Reuters reports.
Concern over the jet’s safety flared last month after CBS’s “60 Minutes” news program reported that two pilots said they had stopped flying the fighter due to safety concerns.
The Senate Armed Services Committee said it hoped the Air Force would be able to resolve the issue and that it would continue to exercise “close oversight” in the meantime.
In a report accompanying its fiscal 2013 defense spending bill, the committee said the Navy reported 64 incidents and two deaths due to similar problems with F/A-18 fighter planes built by Boeing Co (BA.N) from 2002 to 2009, but ultimately resolved the problem.
The Air Force has documented 11 incidents of hypoxia-like symptoms in 10,000 F-22 flights, or about 0.1 percent, since the plans resumed flying in late 2011.
The Senate committee report directed the secretary of the Air Force to explain, no later than 90 days after enactment of the bill, how the service had implemented or would implement recommendations made by its scientific advisory board.
It also said it would view “as unacceptable any act of retaliation against any F-22A Raptor pilot who raises concerns about the safety of this aircraft or declines to fly it on that basis.”
Last month, Lieutenant General Janet Wolfenbarger told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee that the Air Force viewed the two pilots who spoke to CBS as whistleblowers entitled to protection from retaliation.