ABC NEWS: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has demanded the Air Force take measures to make America's most expensive fighter plane, the F-22 Raptor, safer for its pilots in light of an ongoing, potentially deadly problem with the plane's oxygen system, a Pentagon spokesperson said today.
As a recent ABC News investigation found, for more than four years pilots for the F-22 Raptor have reported at least 25 incidents of experiencing "hypoxia-like symptoms" while at the controls of the $420 million-plus-a-pop jet. Hypoxia is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain and is characterized by dizziness, confusion and disorientation.
Among other precautions, Panetta ordered the Air Force to expedite the installation of an automatic emergency back-up oxygen system to the planes, spokesperson George Little told reporters.
Currently, pilots who believe they're experiencing oxygen problems have to manually reach for a ring in a cramped corner of the cockpit to activate the emergency back-up system. The activation ring itself was already such a problem that the Air Force recently re-designed it for the entire fleet to make it more accessible.
In one fatal incident in November 2010, the Air Force said one of its pilots, Capt. Jeff Haney, had been too distracted by trying to activate the manual back-up system after a malfunction cut off his primary oxygen completely and he accidentally flew his plane into the ground.