In November of 2010, Air Force pilot Jeffrey Haney was tragically killed when his F22 crashed in Alaska. The subsequent investigation revealed an apparent flaw in the plane's oxygen generation system and was then restricted to flights of 25,000 feet of less. In the months that followed, several other pilots reported a lack of oxygen. Finally, after a recent incident where a pilot “scraped the underside of the aircraft on trees during a landing approach”, the entire fleet of F22 Raptors have been grounded indefinitely. According to an e-mail sent to Congress, "The pilot does not recall the incident and is being treated for physiological symptoms”.
I've been following the events carefully as this awe-inspiring jet was scheduled to fly at the 2011 Jones Beach Airshow which I photograph annually. This now seems highly unlikely as the show is just a few short weeks away. While photographers and aviation enthusiast's are certainly disappointed, most understand that the pilot's safety is of paramount concern, along with the nearly 400,000 spectators in attendance. Furthermore, each jet costs approximately $411 million dollars, so this is a rather expensive and urgent matter. Since the F22 has not seen action in Libya, speculation is growing as to the severity of the problem.
The last time I caught a glimpse of the F22 was in 2009 as its engines screamed directly overhead at Republic Airport in Farmingdale. I shouted with joy as the sheer power of this marvelous machine disappeared into the horizon leaving a trail of noise, and setting off a parking lot full of car alarms from the reverberation. At the actual Airshow, I was lucky enough to capture some images of the afterburner glow, the bomb doors opening, and the Heritage Flight. I hope to see it fly again some day soon.
To follow the latest news on the 2011 Jones Beach Airshow and the status of the F22, check here.