An Air Force Reserve unit stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson resumed flying F-22 Raptors Saturday, following the lifting of a four-month-long stand-down order for the Raptor fleet issued amid concerns about the stealth fighters’ oxygen systems.
According to 477th Fighter Group spokesperson Capt. Ashley Conner, six F-22s with the 302nd Fighter Squadron took off from JBER at 9 a.m. Saturday as part of the 477th’s monthly drill weekend.
"Most of our pilots integrated into the flying schedule when our active duty counterparts returned to flight earlier this month," said Lt. Col. David Piffarerio, the squadron’s commander. "This (Unit Training Assembly) will be the first weekend that all of our Reserve pilots and maintainers will be training together."
Fighter jets' oxygen systems provide an enriched flow of air to pilots during extreme maneuvers, which place major stresses on their bodies. If a pilot's oxygen supply is interrupted during such maneuvers or at high altitudes, it can cause loss of consciousness in seconds.
The stand-down order issued May 5 came after reports that Raptor pilots had experienced a series of 14 hypoxia-like incidents -- involving a lack of oxygen -- since June 2008, including five in the week before the order was issued.
Reports in the Air Force Times suggested that indoor engine-start procedures at JBER blowing carbon monoxide back into the Raptors’ oxygen systems might be a factor in the incidents, and that other toxins were poisoning F-22 pilots.
Although the Air Force has not released a final report on the cause of the F-22’s oxygen-system issues, it lifted the stand-down order Sept. 20, saying enough data had been accumulated from studies and investigations that “a return to flight is prudent and appropriate,” according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.
Conner says the Reserves are following an incremental plan to return Raptor pilots to flight, similar to the one being used by active-duty Air Force units.