The USAF has contracted aerospace and defence firm Lockheed Martin to supply 40 of its F-22 Raptor aircraft with upgraded oxygen systems, it's been announced.
The $19m deal follows a recent type-wide flight ban related to reports, from the cockpit, of dizziness, loss of orientation and other symptoms related to limited oxygen supply.
Currently, USAF F-22 Raptor pilots have to manually operate their oxygen supply systems. However, after the upgrades have been carried out, the aircraft involved will have a secondary system that kicks in if the main system fails.
Raptor Oxygen System Upgrades
The Raptor oxygen system upgrades contract covers the provision of 40 retrofit kits, 10 spare kits and one-off engineering work and requires completion by 30 April 2013. The contract was placed under the direction of Leon Panetta - the US Secretary of Defense.
The USAF Raptor grounding lasted for a total of five consecutive months between May and September 2011. Since flying activities resumed, there have been 11 recorded oxygen deprivation accounts from the cockpit - equivalent to something like 0.1 per cent of all Raptor operations conducted between then and now.
No plans now exist to reground the USAF's Raptors but, according to a statement from the Pentagon, no option's been ruled out.
USAF F-22 Oxygen Supply Upgrades
"It's a safety-of-flight issue", Pentagon representative John Kirby told media representatives on 6 June 2012 of the USAF F-22 oxygen supply upgrades. "Secretary Panetta understands that, and he's not taking any options off the table with respect to the future of the aircraft. Right now the aircraft is performing very well in an operational setting and we're just going to continue to watch this as we move forward."
The USAF's ultimately due to operate 187 F-22 Raptor stealth air superiority fighters, each one costing in the region of $150m. Export controls are likely to mean the USAF remains the F-22's only user throughout its lifespan.
The type entered USAF service in 2005 and is equipped with a pair of vectored-thrust Pratt and Whitney turbofans, giving it outstanding agility and a top speed of Mach2+.
Image copyright USAF