published Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Fighter jet crashes near Florida Air Force base

An F-22 fighter jet flies during the Farnborough International Air Show in Farnborough, England.
An F-22 fighter jet flies during the Farnborough International Air Show in Farnborough, England.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — An Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet crashed onto a Florida Panhandle highway Thursday, but the pilot was able to eject safely and there were no immediate reports of injuries on the ground, the military said.

The single-seat stealth fighter, part of a program that has been plagued with problems, went down Thursday afternoon near Tyndall Air Force Base, just south of Panama City. The pilot was receiving medical treatment at the base and a section of Highway 98 was closed as rescuers responded.

The cause of the crash isn’t clear, but the Air Force has been trying to address problems with the $190 million aircraft for several years. In 2008, pilots began reporting a sharp increase in hypoxia-like problems, forcing the Air Force to finally acknowledge concerns about the F-22’s oxygen supply system. Two years later, the oxygen system contributed to a fatal crash. Though pilot error ultimately was deemed to be the cause, the fleet was grounded for four months in 2011.

New restrictions were imposed in May, after two F-22 pilots went on the CBS program “60 Minutes” to express their continued misgivings. The Air Force has said the F-22 is safe to fly — a dozen of the jets began a six-month deployment to Japan in July — but flight restrictions that remain in place will keep it out of the high-altitude situations where pilots’ breathing is under the most stress.

Internal documents and emails obtained by The Associated Press earlier this year show Air Force experts actually proposed a range of solutions by 2005, including adjustments to the flow of oxygen into pilot’s masks. But that key recommendation was rejected by military officials reluctant to add costs to a program that was already well over budget.

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