Major Air Show Act Currently Grounded Over Safety Concerns

Promoter Planning Major Announcement For 2011 Lineup

OCEAN CITY — One of the headline acts for the 2011 Ocean City Air Show, the F-22 Raptors, has been placed on “stand-down” indefinitely, while the Air Force investigates potential problems with the oxygen systems on the aircraft, casting doubt on the appearance of the famous jets during the June event in the resort.

The U.S. Air Force last week ordered a “stand-down” of all F-22 Raptors after persistent problems with the aircraft’s On-Board Oxygen Generation Systems (OBOGS) were uncovered. The Air Force’s F-22 Raptors are scheduled to be one of the signature acts of the 2011 Ocean City Air Show slated for June 11-12 in the resort, but the ongoing investigation could keep the precision team on the sidelines.

The Air Force officially grounded all F-22 Raptors last Tuesday, but problems with the aircraft’s on-board oxygen supply systems began late last year. A deadly F-22 crash last November prompted the Air Force to begin investigating the OBOGS on the aircraft and other jets in its arsenal that share the same systems.

The call for a stand-down for the F-22 Raptors came last week after a recent spike in the number of incidents potentially related to hypoxia among pilots and crews. Since January, the F-22 Raptors have been kept at altitudes below 25,000 feet during the investigation in order to lessen the risk in case their oxygen systems malfunction.

According to a Defense Department release, if the OBOGS failed at 25,000 feet, the pilots would have time to recover in the lower altitudes where there is enough oxygen in the atmosphere. At 50,000 feet, or the altitude at which the Raptors typically fly, the pilots would only have 10 seconds of consciousness if the OBOGS failed.

According to the Air Force, there have been nine suspected cases of hypoxia during F-22 operations since mid-2008 and 14 recorded OBOGS incidents reported recently. Hypoxia is a condition characterized by a lack of too little oxygen to the body, causing disorientation in mild cases to unconsciousness in more severe cases.

With the investigation ongoing and the Ocean City Air Show now less than a month away, it remains uncertain if the F-22 Raptors will be available for the event. Air Force officials could not disclose when the investigation will be completed and the Raptors will be cleared for operations.

“The jets are on stand-down until the investigation is complete,” Air Force Master Sgt. Pamela Anderson of the Air Combat Command Public Affairs Office said yesterday. “There is no timetable on the completion of the investigation.”

According to Anderson, the Raptors will remain grounded until a thorough investigation into the problems with the aircrafts’ oxygen supply systems are discovered and corrected if need be. With no firm timetable, Anderson said the Raptors’ appearance at the Ocean City Air Show next month could be in jeopardy.

“Obviously, safety is paramount. That’s our priority,” she said. “The F-22 will not fly in any air shows until the investigation is complete. We will take all necessary precautions before we make any further decisions about the schedule.”

While losing the F-22 Raptors would be a setback for the Ocean City Air Show, organizers said yesterday the event has been prepared for the eventuality.

“It’s something they’ve been looking into for a while,” said Ocean City Air Show organizer and promoter Bryan Lilley yesterday. “From our perspective, we still have a month to go, and we’re hopeful the investigation will be completed and whatever the issue is will be resolved by then.”

Ocean City Air Show officials are cautiously optimistic the Air Force R-22 Raptors will be able to perform at the event next month. In the meantime, Lilley said he is close to making a major announcement regarding a late addition to the program.

“We’re not at liberty to announce it just yet, but we’ve got confirmation from one of the most exciting participants available for air shows,” he said.

“We’re hoping for the best and planning on them being here, but no matter what happens with the Raptors, we feel certain we’re going to have the most unique air show line-up ever assembled.”

Lilley said the potential late addition, along with the other acts on the established program, are part of the event’s ongoing efforts to assemble the best available list of performers for the Ocean City show. He said the pending announcement is not related to the possibility of the Raptors being unable at perform at the event next month.

“It has nothing to do with the situation involving the Raptors and the stand-down,” he said. “We’re constantly working with all of the armed forces and their operations units to see what we can add to the show. I wish I could say more, but if this works out, it’s going to be really special.”