Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor may have a design flaw that causes pilots to lose oxygen but, hey, it's a really fast plane!
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That's one way to interpret the company's response to a Sunday 60 Minutes investigation by Lesley Stahl into the plane's faulty oxygen system that's causing pilots to become disoriented while at the controls. In an unprecedented move, two decorated Air Force pilots, Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Josh Wilson refused to fly the plane and put their careers on the line by airing their concerns on the CBS program last night.
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On camera, Gordon and Wilson claimed that "a vast, silent majority" of Raptor pilots believe their lives are in danger because the lightning-fast jets make them black out or temporarily lose control—a hazard they say has caused Air Force doctors to say no one should be flying the $400 million jets. (Meanwhile, worried pilots are taking out extra life-insurance policies as the Air Force keeps the planes in the air and, the two men say.)
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But on Sunday, Lockheed Martin launched a counter-messaging campaign on its Twitter feed, lauding the technological superiority of the plane and eschewing any talk of oxygen deprivation or hypoxia, as the condition is called among military health specialists.
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"F-22 enables complete control of the skies for uncontested 4th gen fleet," read a tweet, which garnered a responses from several tweeters. "So does the F/A-18 Super Hornet only it does it in a combat instead of on paper and for only 25% of the cost, responded @MarkinZeroLand.
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"Did you know that F-22 supercruise speeds are greater than Mach 1.4 without afterburners?" read another Lockheed Martin tweet. "Pity the pilots don't want to fly them though..." responded @ThatDamonGuy.
As you can see to the right, the promotional campaign continued tweet after tweet about the craft's speed, agility and "360 degree battlespace awareness" but nothing on its stubbornly problematic oxygen problems.
As for the Air Force's part, it grounded all of the Raptors after an F-22 pilot crashed in Alaska in 2010 after having blacked out (the incident was blamed on pilot error) and other pilots reported signs of oxygen deprivation. But the planes were brought back online after a few tweaks were made that haven't, as of yet, sovled the problem.
According to the Air Force, keeping the planes in the air is part of the inherent risks involved in flying planes. “We live in a community where risk is part of our lives,” Gen. Mike Hostage, the Air Force’s top fighter commander, said last month. “Right now, we believe that risk — although it’s not as low as we would like it — is low enough to safely operate the airplane at the current tempo.”
Watch the whole 60 Minutes segment here.