This comes on the heels of an April GAO report that compared the F-22 modernization program with similar efforts involving the older F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 fighters.
Updating the three older fighters, GAO says, began with the assumption that each be incrementally upgraded over time. But with the F-22, the Air Force did not expect any major shifts in its mission and did not plan for future upgrades. The Raptor's modernization program began in 2003 because of a significant change— that it perform ground-attack sorties in addition to being an air superiority fighter.The change was considered necessary to meet current and future threats, the report says.
Because the Air Force had not anticipated the need for such a change, critical information wasn't available when the modernization began. As a result, cost and schedule estimates "were not knowledge based — and have since changed significantly, with costs doubling and schedule slipping by more than seven years," the report states.
In making his case that the F-22 "is a disaster for American defense," Sprey ticks off several factors.
The first and most important: Pilots become skilled through training, and Raptor pilots don't get enough training hours because of aircraft maintenance problems. He points to the flying time of Capt. Haney, who died in the Alaska crash. The official crash report showed he flew eight to nine hours a month for his final three months. Haney was an instructor pilot and a mission commander.
"Jeff Haney was one of the hottest sticks in the F-22 fleet and he was only getting eight to 10 hours a month," Sprey said. "I was astonished to see that. That was appallingly low."
Sprey said the number of hours should be much higher, but Langley pilots disagree. They also dispute that the aircraft is hampered by maintenance problems.
In a background briefing during last week's media day, pilots and maintainers from the First Fighter Wing said the wing's mission capability rate was 80 percent, which is 6 percent above their goal and compares favorably to F-16s.
As for training, they fly between six and 20 hours a month. Because veteran pilots have experience on fourth-generation fighters, they feel they don't need as many hours on the Raptor. An officer who has spent 18 years in the air said he's never flown 30 or 40 hours a month, although that would be possible in wartime.
Sprey said another problem with the Raptor is that the fleet is too small. Combine that with few hours in the air, and he said, "We've never come close to an airplane that shows up so little."
Supporters of the Raptor are upset with the size of the fleet, too.
"Instead of having fewer F-22s, we should have more," said Forbes.
Had the Air Force committed to hundreds of Raptors, it could have incorporated upgrades into F-22s before they rolled off the assembly line, rather than trying to retro-fit improvements into existing planes. The U.S. could have sold extra Raptors to its closest allies, driving down the cost, Forbes said.
The congressman says he takes the concerns of pilots Gordon and Wilson seriously.
"I never discount a single concern of one pilot, one soldier," he said. "If they have a concern, we have a concern. But I also feel the Air Force feels the same way. The only thing we have to constantly do is put it in some perspective."
Retired Air Force Gen. Richard E. Hawley is the former commander of Air Combat Command, and still lives in the area. He retired in 1999.
When it comes to the oxygen-generating system, the issue could be any number of things, he said. The intense Internet buzz created after the crash in Alaska could be making pilots hypersensitive – kind of like when the flu is going around, everyone thinks they have the flu.
It could be a training issue. A pilot in a high-performing jet that flies at high altitudes must have disciplined breathing – forcing out carbon dioxide to breathe in oxygen.
Or it could be the oxygen-generation system itself, which takes high-pressure air off the engine and processes it. Investigators say the problem is either not enough oxygen or air that is tainted with toxins.
"This is very high-end technology," Hawley said. "Maybe it isn't working quite right."
He noted that earlier aircraft had oxygen bottles, which worked fine for years.
"Maybe we ought to put a bottle back in the plane," he said. He praised the investigating board, but noted that they "keep coming up empty-handed."
Hawley said he can't recall any instance in his 35-year career where a pilot did not want to fly an airplane.
"It's a shocking thing to me to think that fighter pilots would not want to fly the F-22," he said. "Clearly, something's going on."