In case you haven’t read it yet, it looks like the Air Force is blaming last December F-22 Raptor crash in Alaska on pilot error — with an oxygen generating system-related twist.
The service’s final accident report states that Capt. Jeffery Haney accidentally pointed his Raptor toward the ground while reaching for a switch to activate his jet’s backup oxygen system after the planes’ onboard oxygen generator system (OBOGS) shut down.
As you know, the Raptor has been grounded for much of the year since that crash due to suspicions that problems with the OBOGS or bleed air systems are causing pilots to experience hypoxia-like symptoms. While the oxygen generating system on Haney’s jet didn’t fail, it did shut down because oxygen from the bleed air system, which feeds the OBOGS, was leaking into the engine spaces– a situation that can start a fire, according to the Air Force’s accident report. The bleed air system is designed to shut off automatically if it leaks air into the engine spaces — without the bleed air system the OBOGS can’t work. When this happened on Haney’s jet, he reached down to activate his emergency oxygen supply via a small ring tucked onto the side of his ejection seat; that’s when he accidentally nudged the controls and pointed the jet toward the Earth and crashed at Mach 1.1 31 seconds later, according to the accident report.
The report places blame on Haney for not activating his EOS fast enough to recover from the accidental dive, not on the problems with the bleed air system:
The board president found, by clear and convincing evidence, the cause of the mishap was the
MP’s [mishap pilot’s] failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan, and unrecognized spatial disorientation.
To be fair, the report also cites “organizational training issues, inadvertent operations, personal equipment interference, and controls/switches” as “factors that substantially contributed to the mishap.”
This goes along with emphatic comments that Air Force Cheif of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz made to a group of us reporters a couple of months ago, when he said the Oxygen system was not to blame for the crash. Click through the jump to read the report and sound off in the comments as to what you think of the verdict.