The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of radar-evading F-22 Raptor fighters has been grounded until “further notice.” It’s the latest blow to the reputation of the world’s most expensive, and allegedly most fearsome, dogfighter.
“The stand-down is a prudent measure following recent reports of oxygen system malfunction,” Gen. Will Fraser said. Without oxygen, Raptor pilots can’t fly at the high altitudes where the sleek, supersonic Lockheed jet performs best.
The Air Force began put the boot on the Raptors after pilots reported “hypoxia and decompression sickness” — a good sign they weren’t getting enough air from their planes’ systems. Before the full stand-down, the flying branch tried limiting the F-22 to flying below 25,000 feet, but the problems apparently continued.
Sidelining Raptors at their bases in Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii — plus rotational locations in Japan and Guam — effectively cuts in half the Air Force’s dogfighting fleet, which also includes around 250 older, Boeing-made F-15Cs. Raptors can still fly on urgent “national security directed missions,” but routine patrols and training are forbidden.
The grounding is the latest in a long series of embarrassments for a jet the Air Force insists “cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft” — a claim increasingly challenged by Russian and Chinese stealth prototypes. Of course, it’s easy to defeat a plane that can’t fly.