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My son emailed to ask why I haven't said anything about the F-22's oxygen problems, or about the two whistleblower Raptor pilots who appeared on a recent episode of 60 Minutes.

My first excuse comes easy: I know very little about the F-22's oxygen system.  In the F-15 (and all other jets I flew), the oxygen we breathed came from a liquid oxygen reservoir and was delivered to our masks through time-tested oxygen regulators dating back to the 1950s.  The advantage was that the O2 we breathed was clean; the disadvantage was that the LOX had to be replenished between flights, and on a really long flight you could conceivably deplete your supply.  The F-22 uses an onboard oxygen generating system (OBOGS) that extracts O2 from engine bleed air.  The advantage is an unlimited supply of oxygen (as long as the engines are running); the disadvantage, it seems to me, is the possibility of contamination.

Military pilots visit the altitude chamber every few years to relearn their hypoxia symptoms.  My symptoms never varied: lightheadedness and dizziness.  I valued the training and believed that if I ever became hypoxic in flight I'd recognize the symptoms and do something about it.  But there were always one or two guys in the chamber who didn't recognize their symptoms and would keep trying to put the pegs in the holes until they passed out ... or until the chamber safety monitors clamped the masks back over their faces and set their regulators to 100% O2.  The good thing about hypoxia is that when you start breathing oxygen again you're instantly cured; the bad thing is that if you're alone in a single-seat fighter you might not recognize your symptoms until it's too late to do anything about it (those guys especially).

One of the two 60 Minutes whistleblowers said that when it happened to him he recognized the symptoms and wanted to do something about it.  There's an emergency oxygen bottle on the side of the ejection seat: when you activate it O2 under pressure is forced into your mask for about 10 minutes, plenty of time to descend to a lower, more oxygen-rich cabin altitude.  But one of his hypoxia symptoms, frighteningly, was that he couldn't remember where the emergency oxygen bottle was, or how to activate it!

As for my opinion on whistleblowing, well: outsiders may cheer when, say, a CIA agent goes public with institutional abuses and wrongdoings, but fellow agents close ranks against the whistleblower.  And that's before the higher-ups retaliate, as they inevitably do.  The military is no different.  These guys spoke out of school and they'll pay a price for doing that.  Never mind whether they're right or wrong.  It's just the way things are in tight-knit professions.

Originally posted to pwoodford on Thu May 17, 2012 at 09:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Consistent Truth About the US is That (8+ / 0-)

    for half a century there have been virtually no whistleblowers speaking out in time in any sector of governance or economy about wrongdoing, virtually none of those who do whose voices made it through our Constitutionally private for-profit public square to the electorate, and since the middle of that last half century no legal possibility of press/independent investigation of lawbreaking private entities on behalf of the people.

    Helluva system we have going.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu May 17, 2012 at 09:38:37 PM PDT

    •  I'll agree you on points 2 and 3, but there have (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Otteray Scribe

      been quite a number of "whistle blower" episodes over the time frame you suggest.  It is actually your second point that is probably mostly to blame for the reason that we don't know anything about the efforts of most of the people who want to point out wrong-doing.  People who call out wrong-doing are usually not only not afforded a stage on which to state their case, but are often the victims of having their stories buried or ignored because the general media perception is that a whistle-blower complaint is just another minor political debate that doesn't rise to the importance to make it the theme story of the month...

      "In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile..." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

      by Jack K on Thu May 17, 2012 at 10:06:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Do we really need the Raptor ? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe

    I guess we already bought 'em, may as well try to fix the problem. I think the F-35 program should be axed yesterday. It's an overpriced boondoggle in the first place and you'd be surprised how big an issue it is with the seniors around here. You can't hardly go to a political meeting without meeting someone whose most important concern is the possibility of really loud F-35s at D-M.
    You comin' Saturday ?

    The GOP ... Government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

    by Azazello on Thu May 17, 2012 at 10:11:57 PM PDT

  •  Here is an OBOGS primer... (8+ / 0-)

    F-20 OBOGS

    This is obviously not an F-22 OBOGS, but the principles are the same (oxygen molecules act the same inside stealth aircraft as they do in all other aircraft).

    I've never worked F-22's, but I have about 2 decades of experience on large military aircraft.  I'm also familiar with chemical-induced hypoxia, having been overcome by oxygen displacing solvents in one rather unpleasant work incident.

    Hypoxia:  All I can say is, "Good luck recognizing the symptoms in an actual emergency".  I was doing NDI dye penetrant inspection and accidentally created a low-oxygen atmosphere in an enclosed space, into which I had to stick my head in order to inspect structures.  It was one of those quick jobs where the respirator is a major pain-in-the-ass.  I was semi-conscious before I even realized I was in trouble.  I managed to self-rescue but I got one hell of a scary reminder why one does not fuck with safety gear.

    My inexpert opinion of F-22 OBOGS is twofold:

    (1) The system appears to be overly reliant on high-tech albeit proven technology.  Basically, it strains oxygen molecules out of air that isn't far removed from being outer space, and the reserve storage tank sounds pretty small.  Screw that process up and it isn't long before the crew runs out of oxygen.

    (2) The backup GOX system is manual.  Considering the altitudes involved and the speed at which hypoxia would strike, the arrangement has me in wtf? mode.

    Call me biased, but I like the old, low-tech lox/gox arrangement.  Sure it's heavy, requires maintenance, and has its own fairly severe hazards, but when one needs nice, clean breathing oxygen, nothing quite beats good ol' lox.

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by DaveinBremerton on Thu May 17, 2012 at 10:13:42 PM PDT

  •  yes it is. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, Shotput8, JeffW
    It's just the way things are in tight-knit professions.
    and they'll justify by claiming that they should have gone through channels. except they did, and got no response, because lots of people have a vested interest in the F-22 being airborne, regardless of potential safety hazards. the contractors, the generals who made their star bones on it, and the politicians who used it to generate jobs in their states. this is exactly how the B-1 bomber (a plane the air force didn't want) came into existence, at a couple of billion per: every congressional district in the country had jobs associated with it.

    this is an issue that probably goes back to the peloponessian wars, if not farther. war is good for business, if not for the poor schmoe actually fighting it.

  •  I had not been aware of the problem (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    craiger, Shotput8, JeffW

    until I heard about the story on 60 Minutes.  I must confess I watch very little TV other than documentaries and some sports and did not catch the broadcast.  When I did hear about it the next day, my first thought was, "This is a career ender for a couple of officers."  That is sad, but part of the nature of the beast--they are not stupid and fully realized the likely consequences of their actions.  

    These guys are no doubt among the best and brightest, which means we are probably going to lose some good people to the bureaucracy.  Even more important, we may lose some equally good people to hypoxia, and that is even worse than having one's career wrecked.

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Thu May 17, 2012 at 10:54:54 PM PDT

  •  My Hypoxia Cues (3+ / 0-)

    When I find myself staring at a chart and I can't remember why I unfolded it and what I was looking for... it's time to turn up the flow.

    Even worse: when I read back a simple frequency change, and it sounds like someone else is mumbling on the radio but it's me.

    Now, breathing oxygen derived from bleed air sounds gross, but isn't typical airliner cabin pressurization also the product of bleed air?  If so, then the major difference is OBOGS separates out the 20% of the rarefied atmosphere that is O2, and only pressurizes and delivers that component to the mask.

    I'm always paranoid about turning on the heater, because any leak in the exhaust manifold would pump CO into the cabin.

    "They let 'em vote, smoke, and drive -- even put 'em in pants! So what do you get? A -- a Democrat for President!" ~ Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

    by craiger on Fri May 18, 2012 at 01:40:03 AM PDT

    •  Bleed air isn't all that gross... (0+ / 0-)

      ...unless of course the supplying engine ingests a duck, and the cabin pressurization system happens to be of the type that uses bleed air directly instead of indirectly.

      The KC-135 had a really cool indirect system in which bleed air was used to spin a compressor turbine (basically a supercharger).  The compressor output pressurized the cabin and supplied heat (compressing air heats it up a lot).  The worst that ever happened was the water sock got nasty and made the cabin stink.  Well...except for the time I saw one of these puppies explode.  We were doing a ground pressurization check and using engine bleed air to spin the compressor.  The compressor shelled out, exploded, and knocked the 12-foot long keel beam bay door clear off its piano hinge.  The engine run crew shut down and escaped, and the fire guard went home to change his underwear.

      "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Gandhi

      by DaveinBremerton on Fri May 18, 2012 at 09:52:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A simple solution to the F-22 problem... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, JeffW

    Allow only teabaggers to fly that plane; their brains are used to not getting any oxygen.

  •  A technical question - not the first OBOGS @ USAF (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe

    so, is there something different about the OBOGS in the F-22?

    (They are, as I see it listed by at least one manufacturer as installed, or installable, in several other platforms).

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