Air Force whistleblowers to get protection

Tuesday - 5/8/2012, 7:38pm EDT

By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - There will be no actions taken against two whistleblower pilots who complained about problems with the F-22 fighter jet, including comments made during a recent "60 Minutes" television interview, the Air Force said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday the pilots would get whistle-blower protections.

Because the pilots are members of the Virginia Air Guard, the decision was formally announced by the Guard.

Col. Thomas K. Wark, commander of the Virginia Air Guard's 192nd Fighter Wing, said there would be no disciplinary or administrative actions taken against the pilots.

The pilots spoke out about oxygen-deficit problems with the stealth fighter, which have resulted in pilot dizziness, blackouts and other hypoxia-like symptoms.

According to the Air Force just two pilots have asked not to fly the F-22 or to be reassigned, and officials have said each pilot's request would be handled individually.

The nation's F-22 fighter jets were grounded for four months last year after pilots complained of experiencing a lack of oxygen that can cause dizziness and blackouts. Air Force officials said they have taken steps against the problem, but still haven't pinpointed what's causing the hypoxia-like symptoms. Hypoxia is when the body doesn't receive enough oxygen.

"Though we have not yet resolved the root cause of some physiological events, we have mitigated the risk of F-22 flight operations to a level where we can safely operate the F-22 while we continue the investigation to identify the root cause," said Lt. Col. John Dorrian on Tuesday.

Dorrian, an Air Force spokesman, said some of the measures taken to allow pilots to continue to fly the jets include an improved emergency oxygen system handle, a finger-mounted device to monitor pilot blood oxygen, and software updates to provide better oxygen sensors.

The planes are stationed at five other bases besides Virginia: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

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Lolita C. Baldor can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lbaldor


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