(SEP20, 2011) Air Force officials had eagerly telegraphed the announcement, and now it’s out: The F-22 fleet has been cleared to return to flight status, although engineers still do not have a permanent answer for the oxygen system problems that had initially sidelined the jets.
The entire fleet of F-22s — over 160 planes — has been waiting on the tarmac since early May after the Air Force reported 12 separate incidents of pilots experiencing “hypoxia-like symptoms” in the past three years while flying the planes.
The planes will slowly make their way back between the clouds in a “comprehensive incremental return-to-fly plan” after the entire fleet undergoes an “extensive inspection of the life support systems,” the Air Force said. The planes were grounded so long that the pilots reportedly may have to repeat grueling training just to become proficient in the complex planes once again.
“We now have enough insight from recent studies and investigations that a return to flight is prudent and appropriate,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said in a statement. “We’re managing the risks with our aircrews, and we’re continuing to study the F-22’s oxygen systems and collect data to improve its performance.”
Pilots and crews at last will get to return to their work and begin re-honing their combat edge that dulled during the grounding. Air Combat Command officials are crossing their fingers that they can catch potential problems with their slow ramp back to operating and these new daily inspections.