Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered the Air Force to take extra steps to protect F-22 pilots while officials investigate reports of dizziness and fainting spells in the cockpit. Panetta has ordered the service to keep all F-22 flights close enough to landing strips so that pilots will be able to land if they begin experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms, and to speed up the installation of an automatic backup oxygen system in the fighter jet.
The defense secretary's intervention follows the public refusal of some pilots to fly the F-22, and amounts to a rebuke of the Air Force's handling of the issue, notes the Washington Post. Air Force commanders insist that the aircraft is safe to fly. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jack Kirby rejected suggestions that the pilots were being used as guinea pigs. "They’re highly trained, highly skilled, and we value their service and their expertise," he said. "And frankly, that service and expertise is critical to helping us figure out what the problem is." (Read more Air Force stories.)