Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, the director of operations for Air Combat Command, told the Pentagon press corps Tuesday the service never found its “smoking gun” in its search to figure out what was causing hypoxia-like symptoms when flying the F-22. Throughout the presentation, though, he placed blame squarely on a valve that inflates the Combat Edge upper pressure garment.
He listed connectors and hoses in the cockpit during the press conference. However, it’s the valve that is getting replaced. Testing on the valve is also the update Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants to receive before lifting altitude restrictions on the stealth fighter fleet.
This valve on the Combat Edge vest is not unique to the F-22. F-15 and F-16 pilots wore them from 1992 until 2004 when service officials told them to stop “because they were not giving us the contribution we thought they would.” F-22 pilots kept wearing the vests because of the increased altitudes the F-22 can fly.
Lyon explained that the valves caused the vests to inflate too early in an F-22 flight causing pilots to hyperventilate in the cockpits. The vests help control the breathing of pilots in high G-force environments. However, the valves inflated the vest before the pilots started to experience extreme G-force conditions.
This made the vest feel like a “corset,” Lyon said. For the most part, though, pilots didn’t notice the vests inflate.
Such a simple answer to a problem that has eluded Air Force engineers and scientists for four years has left some Air Force pilots skeptical. An F-16 pilot said the Air Force is either “incompetent for missing this until now,” or “dishonest and trying to sweep something under the rug.”
Read more about the press conference and Lyon’s discussion about the hunt for the problem here.