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Air Force F-22 Raptor Grounding Enters Fourth Month

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The Air Force's entire fleet of F-22 Raptors -- the most expensive fighter jet ever built -- has not flown since May 3. And as Panama City, Florida's WJHG reports today, "there are concerns the F-22 pilots are losing their training edge," with pilots who don't fly in 210 days having to "retake the entire training course."

The planes, which cost the Pentagon $412 million each, have never seen a day of combat and will not be flying at all until the Air Force can figure out what's going wrong with the OBOGS, or, On-Board Oxygen Generation System.

“There is a lot of nasty stuff getting pumped into the pilots’ bloodstream through what they’re breathing from that OBOGS [On-Board Oxygen Generation System]. That’s fact,” one former F-22 pilot told Dave Majumdar of the Air Force Times a few weeks ago. “How bad it is, what type it is, exactly how much of it, how long -- all these things have not been answered.”

Whatever it is the pilots are breathing has been causing hypoxia -- a lack of oxygen that can lead to reduced brain function, memory loss, and cognitive problems. On top of that, anti-freeze, propane, and synthetic motor oil have recently been found in F-22 pilots' bloodstreams.

"Now, while other US warplanes pummel targets, the F-22 has sat silently throughout battles in Afghanistan," writes W.J. Hennigan of the Los Angeles Times. "It has gone unused in Iraq. There has been no call for it in the conflict above Libya."

"For all that gigantic cost, you have a system you can't even use," Winslow T. Wheeler, a defense budget specialist at the Center for Defense Information, tells Hennigan. "It's a fundamental explanation on how the country has gotten itself in the financial mess that it's in today."

A retired Naval aviator familiar with the F-22 program tells Minyanville that the problems plaguing the aircraft "will force a shift in readiness and responsibility on to other airframes and services, i.e. the Navy and the F/A 18 and the old F-16s  and F-15s the Air Force will now need to milk more mileage out of."

Although the F-22 is -- as befits a $412 million machine -- more advanced than any other plane before, the former squadron commander says getting back up to speed after a four month break may not be a difficult as it sounds.

"Remember, these pilots have been through basic, intermediate and advanced flight training and they are training in full-motion flight sims," he says. "I expect a compressed syllabus would be in order, with each situation dependent on past experience -- a hotshot with 3000 hours will not require as much retraining as a young bull with 300 hours. Regardless, it's a kick in our national readiness, our premier fighter is grounded, and the pilots are idle. It sucks in spades."
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