WASHINGTON – The Pentagon dragging out an investigation into possible retaliation against two F-22 whistleblower pilots sends a "chilling effect" to the Air Force and any other military personnel, a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday.
In the letter from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Secretary Hagel was asked to order the timely completion of a nearly two-year-long Pentagon investigation into alleged retaliation against Virginia Air National Guard pilots that stepped forward to publicly discuss their safety concerns about flying the F-22 Raptor.
On May 6, 2012, Capt. Joshua Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon, two F-22 pilots assigned to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” program to describe chronic pilot health and safety concerns surrounding the F-22. Sen. Warner and Rep. Kinzinger formed a bipartisan partnership and successfully pushed the Air Force to acknowledge, and ultimately correct, the problems which had plagued the F-22 aircraft for years.
The letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel from Sen. Warner and Rep. Kinzinger follows:
We are writing to share our continued concern over the F-22 and the treatment of the Air Force pilots who stepped forward to report problems with the plane.
As you are aware, Captain Joshua Wilson and Major Jeremy Gordon, under the protection of the Military Whistleblower Act, expressed their concerns with the F-22 Raptor and problems with the oxygen supply system. Because of oxygen deprivation problems, pilots became dizzy and experienced hypoxia, or hypoxia-like symptoms, at rates nearly ten times greater than any other comparable tactical airplane. In a safety survey conducted during the same time frame, it was later revealed that a majority of F-22 pilots had lost confidence in the jet. Simply stated, these gutsy airmen stepped forward to raise the concerns that many F-22 pilots were feeling.
In response to our concerns, and numerous meetings and briefings with senior Air Force officials about the safety of the airplane and its pilots, Secretary Panetta placed significant restrictions on F-22 flight operations. He ordered the Air Force to aggressively pursue the root cause of the F-22’s problems and to utilize expertise that we recommended outside the Air Force chain of command to help fix the problem. These experts included aerospace scientists and engineers at NASA Langley and oxygen experts from the Navy Dive units. Through this expanded partnership, the cause of the oxygen deficiencies was eventually identified, and the Air Force has been installing a multi-million dollar fix by retrofitting the entire F-22 fleet with a new automatic backup oxygen supply (A-BOS) system along with several other flight systems and pilot procedural changes.
While the F-22 airplane fleet is finally advancing toward getting back on track, we cannot say the same for the courageous pilots who came forward. At great risk to their careers and livelihood, they expressed concern with the Air Force’s initial response to the oxygen supply system problems. This included the misguided efforts by Senior Air Force officials to install an after-market charcoal filter in the pilot’s oxygen system and order the pilots to fly with the filter despite pilots and flight surgeons’ reports that the filter, which was never designed for routine flight operations, was forcing charcoal into pilot’s lungs and creating additional health issues.
It is now almost two years since these pilots have come forward, and the Defense Department’s investigation is not complete. While the Pentagon dithers, these officers have been placed in desk jobs, lost their flight pay, and served with letters of reprimand, negative evaluations, and career-ending flight evaluation boards.
This drawn-out process sends a chilling message throughout the Air Force, and in all Service Branches, that if you come forward as a whistleblower to report wrongdoing, there is a high likelihood that your career will be derailed, you may lose pay and benefits, and you and your family will suffer retaliation. This cannot stand. We must provide an accountable system where people who come forward can feel free to do so without fear of retaliation.
We request that the Defense Department Inspector General complete its investigation as soon as possible and provide a full accounting of what took place, and what actions will be taken.