Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is the F-22 toxic?

Even as the Air Force searches for the reason pilots are getting sick flying the F-22, a new mystery about the troubled stealth fighter jet has come to light: Why are mechanics on the ground getting sick in the plane as well?
The Air Force has been looking into a number of reports that pilots experienced "hypoxia-like symptoms" aboard F-22s since April 2008. Hypoxia is oxygen deficiency.
The Air Force reports 25 cases of such systems, including 11 since September, when the service cleared the F-22 fleet to return to flight after a four-month grounding.

The fleet was grounded in May 2011 so the service could check the hypoxia reports, but the order was lifted in September under a "return to fly" plan, with equipment modifications and new rules including daily inspections of the life-support systems.
"Early on in the return to fly we had five maintainers that reported hypoxia symptoms," Gen. Daniel Wyman, command surgeon for the Air Combat Command, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
The maintainers are mechanics on the F-22's ground crews who sometimes have to be in the cockpit while the jet's engine is doing a ground run.
"The maintainers, when they are doing their ground run, are not on the mask, they are in the cockpit," Wyman said.
The problem with maintainers getting sick while on the ground throws a wrench into some of the theories about why at least 25 pilots have suffered hypoxia symptoms.
The Air Force experts trying to figure out the cause of the problem have pointed out that the F-22 flies higher and faster than its predecessors, the F-15 and F-16.
There has also been speculation that there perhaps could be a problem with the system that feeds oxygen to the pilot's mask while in flight.
Asked what is causing the symptoms in maintainers on the ground, not wearing a mask, Wyman said, "I can't answer that at this time."
Sunday, two F-22 pilots told CBS's "60 Minutes" that they would not fly the jet any more. One of the reasons they gave was that there is a problem with the carbon filter built into their mask to help remove contaminants from the air they breathe.
Wyman said that "a black dust was noted in some of the breathing hoses near the filters. We analyzed this dust and found it to be activated carbon."
But no activated carbon was found in "30 pilots who had their throat swabbed for testing."
Activated carbon is an inert form of charcoal that has been used in air filters for years.
Nonetheless, the Air Force has decided to remove carbon filters from the F-22 pilot masks.
The Air Force said Tuesday that no disciplinary action will be taken against the pilots for taking their concerns to "60 Minutes.

Russian plane crash: rescuers recover bodies but no survivors

Rescuers have discovered bodies but no survivors near the wreckage of a new Russian-made passenger plane that smashed into the side of an Indonesian volcano during a flight to impress potential buyers. All 45 people on board are feared dead.

"So far we haven't found any survivors, but we are still searching," Gagah Prakoso said. "I cannot say anything about the condition of the bodies," he said, but added that "a high-speed jet plane hit the cliff, exploded and tore apart".

off from a Jakarta airfield, carrying mostly representatives from Indonesian airlines. 
Family members, many of whom spent the night at the airport, broke down in
 tears on hearing the newsfrom the crash site.
The plane, Russia's first new passenger jet since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago, hit a jagged ridge on top of Mount Salak, a dormant volcano, leaving a giant gash along the steep slope as it stripped trees.
The Superjet has been touted as a challenger to similar-sized aircraft from Canada's Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer SA.
Potential buyers will scrutinise the crash investigation for signs of flaws in the aircraft.
The plane took off on Wednesday afternoon for what was supposed to be a quick demonstration flight – the second of the day. Just 21 minutes later, the Russian pilot and co-pilot sought permission to descend from 3,000m (10,000 feet) to 1,800m, said the head of the national search and rescue agency.
The plane then fell off the radar. It was not clear why the crew asked for the shift in course, he said, especially when they were so close to the 2,200m-high volcano.
Communication between the pilots and air traffic control are being reviewed.
More than 1,000 people, including soldiers and police, took part in the search and rescue effort. Helicopters carrying out aerial surveys near the crater and northern slope spotted the wreck.
The Superjet – developed by the civil aircraft division of Sukhoi with the co-operation with western partners – has been widely considered Russia's chance to regain a foothold in the international passenger plane market. The plane was on a tour, which included stops in Pakistan, Burma and Kazakhstan, and was due to visit Vietnam and Laos.
All but 10 of the 45 people on board were potential buyers and journalists, said Sunaryo from PT Trimarga Rekatama, the company that helped organise Wednesday's event.
The others were Russians, all from Sukhoi companies, an American consultant with a local airline and a Frenchman with aircraft engine-maker Snecma.
With a relatively low price tag of around $35m (£21m), the plane has gained around 170 orders. Indonesia is already one of its biggest customers.
Kartika Airlines and Sky Aviation, among dozens of airlines to have started up in Indonesia in the last decade to meet the growing demand for cheap air travel, have ordered at least 42.


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