Two elite Air Force pilots are seeking protection under the federal whistleblower law for revealing safety problems on the F-22 Raptor, and refusing to fly until those issues are resolved.
On Sunday night, Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Josh Wilson risked their careers by appearing on the CBS news program "60 Minutes," in uniform and without permission to discuss the stealth fighter's flaw.
(See a clip from the segment above)
Both pilots, who flew combat missions in the Iraq War, said they love flying the $400 million jets. But a faulty oxygen system that is suffocating the pilots and causing blackouts is making them fear for their lives and for the lives of people on the ground. Many other F-22 pilots have experienced disorientation, difficulty breathing and forgetfulness in the stealth fighters as well as a cough that follows them even after they land.
This dangerous safety issue may have even claimed a pilot's life.
In 2010, Capt. Jeffrey Haney died when his F-22 crashed in Alaska, The Air Force Times reported. Although evidence showed Haney had blacked out just prior to hitting the ground, the incident was attributed to pilot error, Danger Room reported.
More than a dozen other incidents occurred after the crash, prompting the Air Force to ground the jets in May 2011. But an investigation into the F-22's on-board oxygen-generating system found no "definitive cause" for the blackouts.
The Air Force put the jets back into the air last September, and ordered a change in the aircraft's charcoal filters as a stop gap measure. Following this update, several pilots who flew in the modified jets suffered from oxygen deprivation, including Maj. Gordon. Others began coughing up black sputum.
Despite the known safety issues, F-22 pilots have been ordered to continue flying. In fact, the Air Force is now threatening pilots with disciplinary action if they refuse to fly for safety reasons.
In response, some pilots are taking out extra life insurance policies. In addition to pleading their case on "60 Minutes," Maj. Gordon and Capt. Wilson have reached out to Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) for help and whistleblower protection.
"We are waiting for something to happen," Capt. Wilson said. "And if it happens, nobody's going to be surprised. I think it's a matter of time."
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