Just one little problem: the brass still doesn’t know why a dozen Raptor pilots blacked out and one fatally crashed, prompting the May 3 no-fly order. Officials suspected the oxygen system aboard the $300-million, radar-evading superfighter. Ground crews starting up the jets in sealed, garage-like hangars might also have been a factor. After months of study, the Air Force still can’t say for sure.
But the Lockheed-built F-22s comprise around half of America’s dogfighting fleet. They can’t stay grounded forever without eventually jeopardizing national security.
Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the risk should be manageable. “We now have enough insight from recent studies and investigations that a return to flight is prudent and appropriate.” Schwartz said. He ordered careful monitoring of the jets and their pilots as the F-22 training system slowly cranks back into gear over a period of months.
The return to flight marks the end of a troubling period for America’s small fleet of stealth aircraft. Soon after grounding the F-22s, the Air Force also briefly suspended flying for its 20 stealthy Joint Strike Fighters. The problem in the F-35’s power system has now been resolved. But now, a new design flaw has emerged.
The problems with the F-22s and its stealth stablemates highlights the risk with small, “silver-bullet” fleets of similar aircraft. Larger numbers of more different kinds of jets means greater redundancy and fewer single points of failure. F-22s and F-35s could be the Air Force’s only fighters after 2030 or so. What happens if both types get grounded then?
Photo: Air Force