The U.S. Air Force’s most sophisticated fighter aircraft have been hobbled by unresolved problems with their oxygen systems, potentially undermining American efforts to balance a rapidly modernizing Chinese air force.
The F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, built by Lockheed Martin, was designed to operate at altitudes over 50,000 feet, giving it a key advantage over rival planes. But high altitude flight requires some kind of system for delivering breathable air to the pilot. In the F-22, that’s accomplished by an on board oxygen-generator.
Beginning in 2008, just three years after the Raptor entered service, F-22 pilots began reporting symptoms of oxygen shortage, or ‘hypoxia,’ including blackouts and disorientation during flight. In November, an F-22 crashed in Alaska, killing its pilot – an incident that there has been speculation might have been tied to hypoxia.