NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - People who live near F-22 bases should not seesignificant changes in how or where the aircraft are flyingfollowing new restrictions put in place while military officialsexamine what's causing oxygen-deficit problems with the stealthfighters, the Air Force said Thursday. Guidance on how far away from bases the jets can fly will go out toF-22 units over the next several days, officials at Air CombatCommand at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia said in astatement to The Associated Press. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the restrictions Tuesday asthe Air Force attempts to figure out what's causing pilots in theworld's most advanced fighter jet to experience dizziness and othersymptoms of oxygen shortages while flying. The Air Force groundedthe jets - which have never flown a combat mission - for fourmonths last year while it tried to pinpoint the problem. |
The planesstarted flying again in September but the hypoxia-like symptoms inpilots continued. Some of the nation's 200 F-22 pilots have refused to fly the planeas a result and the issue has drawn scrutiny from members ofCongress concerned about pilots' safety as well as the safety ofcommunities near the bases, some of which are heavily-populatedareas. Air Combat Command, which oversees the F-22s, said the planes willstay in "close proximity to military airfields," although it didnot elaborate. "In general, the guidance keeps training missions closer to theirbase of origin while providing the latitude necessary to givepilots a central role in the safe planning and execution of theirassigned missions - given both the unique characteristics oflocations where we fly the F-22 as well as the different flightprofiles required for different missions," Air Combat Command saidin a separate statement.
"Planning for a safe aircraft recoveryincludes a number of factors such as altitude, terrain, airspeed,fuel, proximity of adequate airfields, and capacity of theemergency oxygen supply." As part of Panetta's order, long-distance air patrol missions inAlaska will be performed by other planes until normal operationsresume once a backup oxygen system is installed or he agrees theF-22 can resume those flights. The jets are stationed at six U.S. bases: Joint BaseElmendorf-Richardson, Alaska: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam,Hawaii; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Nellis Air Force Base,Nev.; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; and Tyndall Air Force Base,Fla. F-22 pilots are trained at Tyndall. Flight testing is at EdwardsAir force Base, Calif., and operational testing and tacticsdevelopment is performed at Nellis.
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