Lawmakers: F-22 oxygen issue more widespread than previously disclosed

There were 26 incidents of hypoxia or hypoxia-like symptoms per 100,000 flying hours, the lawmakers said, information the Air Force provided in response to questions from Warner and Kinzinger last month.

“It’s important that the Air Force comes to grips with these rates being high, and publicly acknowledge they’re high,” Kinzinger said.

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The hypoxia incidents, in which pilots and grounds crew have experienced dizziness and other oxygen-depletion symptoms, have been a mysterious issue for the Air Force to resolve. The F-22 was grounded last year as the service tried to pinpoint the oxygen problem, but flights were resumed without the source being located.

Last month two F-22 pilots appeared on “60 Minutes” to say they had refused to fly the planes for safety concerns. They had gone to the lawmakers for whistleblower protection.

After the pilots stepped forward, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta placed restrictions on the F-22 flights to keep them closer to landing areas.

Warner said that 10 additional pilots and flight surgeons have come forward since the first two pilots did and revealed that a “majority” of pilots expressed concerns about the oxygen systems in surveys conducted by the Air Force.

Both Warner and Kinzinger have called for the Air Force and Air National Guard to drop disciplinary proceedings for one of the pilots, an issue that Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary Edward Bolton said was being referred to the Virginia Guard in his letter to Kinzinger and Warner.

The lawmakers cited the recent removal of charcoal filters that were installed by Boeing to try to address the oxygen problem but were ultimately found to have “negatively [affected] the breathing system.”

They were also hopeful about reports Wednesday that F-22 pressure vests worn by pilots might have contributed to the oxygen issue — although they cautioned against coming to conclusions that the vests were the source of the problem, saying it was likely multiple factors causing the issue.

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