WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- Oxygen problems in the U.S. Air Force's F-22 Raptor fighter jet fleet may be worse than previously disclosed, two U.S. congressmen said.
F-22 pilots have reported incidents in which they didn't receive enough oxygen from the jet's systems, causing hypoxia-like symptoms while flying. Hypoxia results from an oxygen deficiency and can cause nausea, headaches, fatigue or blackouts.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said Thursday in a release the Air Force reported 26.43 hypoxia or hypoxia-like incidents among F-22 pilots per 100,000 flight hours through May 31, a rate at least 10 times higher than any other USAF aircraft.
"This information confirms that the F-22 program is not running at 100 percent and that the oxygen-deprivation incident rates are much higher than we were initially told," Kitzinger said.
The Air Force said the F-22 hypoxia rates "remain relatively low," the lawmakers said in the release.
Warner and Kinzinger sought the information from the Air Force after they met with Virginia Air National Guard Capt. Joshua Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon, the two whistle-blowers who revealed on national television their concerns about breathing issues and blackouts experienced by some F-22 Raptor pilots. Since their appearance on CBS' "60 Minutes," about 10 pilots and flight surgeons contacted Warner's office with specific and similar concerns about hypoxia and hypoxia-related incidents involving the F-22.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last month instructed the Air Force to restrict F-22 flight activities while stepping up efforts to determine potential causes of the F-22 hypoxia incidents.
Warner and Kinzinger also repeated their call for the Air Force and the Virginia Air National Guard to rescind reprimands and other disciplinary proceedings against Wilson and Gordon after they stepped forward under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act.
"I am troubled that two brave pilots had to risk their careers and two relatively new members of Congress had to apply pressure to force the Air Force to move off the dime on this," Warner said. "The F-22 program has cost $80 billion so far, but the most expensive fighter jet in the world is useless if we can't ensure the safety of the pilots who fly it."