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Learning F-35 Lessons From F-22 Oxygen Errors

by Mike Hoffman on July 25, 2012

The Air Force says it has found the problem causing its F-22 pilots to suffocate in flight. Service officials are blaming it on a valve in the upper pressure garment vest and an air filter that was restricting oxygen volume.

The search for what caused the hypoxia-like symptoms for F-22 pilot took almost two years. It turns out the Pentagon is developing another fighter generation fighter jet. You might have heard of it, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz’s last press conference Tuesday as the service’s top officer, he was asked what gives him confidence something like this won’t happen to the F-35 — an aircraft with a development history littered with problems.

To his credit, Schwartz didn’t try to pretend more problems are not forthcoming for the Joint Strike Fighter.

“There’s no such thing as engineering perfection,” Schwartz said. Without test failures you’re “not really advancing the state of the art.”

In fact, he said problems have already popped up for F35, but that’s what happens when you push the boundaries of what’s possible in flight.

“I don’t doubt for a moment … and we found some already, frankly, in the F35. This is one of the things that I think is an important message. That the notion of perfection at the outset even with all the computer power we have … I think we went through a period that we could design perfect airplanes or build perfect airplanes,” Schwartz said.

He then gave Steve Jobs a shout out possibly giving legs to those questions about why the Air Force asked Lockheed Martin and not Apple to build it a fighter jet fleet.

“Apple may be the only one who has been successful at engineering near perfect products,” Schwartz said.

The outgoing Air Force chief of staff had a recommendation for his presumed successor, Gen. Mark Welsh, on avoiding similar drawn out problems seen in the F-22’s oxygen system.

“Test deep. Test thoroughly. Test continuously,” Schwartz said.

Also, hope none of your F-35 pilots go to 60 Minutes if you do find a problem you can’t figure out. Oh wait, that might have just been an editor’s note.

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