Raptors are back in the air
After a four-month stand down, the Air Force's premier fighter, the F-22 Raptor, returned to the skies Wednesday.
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz approved an implementation plan developed by Air Combat Command officials that allowed the F-22 to resume flight operations.
The commander of Air Combat Command directed a stand-down of the fleet, May 3, as a safety precaution, following reported incidents where pilots experienced hypoxia-like symptoms. Officials remain focused on the priorities of aircrew safety and combat readiness.
"In the past four months and actually prior to that, there has been an ongoing safety investigation that has looked at all of the oxygen related systems on the aircraft," said Air Force Col. Derek France, 3rd Wing Operations Group commander. He went on to say that "while they have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of these incidents, (Air Force officials) got to a point where they felt, based on risk mitigation, training of crews, and inspection of the aircraft itself, that we could safely fly again."
The return-to-fly plan implements several risk mitigation actions, to include rigorous inspections, training on life-support systems and continued data collection. The aircraft has also received some minor modifications to ensure the safety of the pilots.
Pilots will use additional protective equipment and undergo baseline physiological tests. The return-to-fly process will begin with instructor pilots and flight leads regaining their necessary proficiency, then follow with other F-22 wingmen.
"What you saw was the initial cadre of instructors...do some of the basic maneuvers to get back on the road to operational capability. Then they will train the others as we go down the same syllabus," France said. "It will kind of be a back to basics syllabus for these guys, but we will eventually get back to the steady state that we were."
In June 2011, the Secretary of the Air Force directed the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to continue the oxygen generation study concurrent with the ongoing SIB. A releasable report will be made available later this year.
As America's primary air superiority weapon system, the F-22 has flown more than 300 missions in support of Operation Noble Eagle and deployed on a rotational basis to the Pacific region and Southwest Asia.
F-22 overseas deployments support the Department of State's Theater Security Program, formal arrangements with foreign partners to establish defense cooperation, promote regional stability, and deter potential aggression.
"Our pilots and our maintainers are fired up to be flying again and to be getting back to full operational capability," France said. "I think America counts on establishing air superiority and the Raptors here at JBER are key to doing that."