Some F-22 pilots decline to fly

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A "very small number" of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor pilots are refusing to fly the jet, a top US Air Force official says. "Obviously it's a very sensitive thing because we are trying to ensure that the community fully understands all that we're doing to try to get to a solution," says Air Combat Command chief Gen Mike Hostage. He was speaking at press conference at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia on 30 April.

The USAF has not found the root cause of 11 hypoxia-like cases since the Raptor fleet returned to flight in September after a near five-month stand-down. The jet has flown about 12,000 times since then. Hostage says that while he will not force pilots to fly the F-22, those aviators won't "get a free pass to go do something else" however. But he says he believes that the USAF has "driven down the risk to a level where we can safely operate the airplane."

In solidarity with his pilots, Hostage says him will get himself checked out in the Raptor and fly the jet until the cause of the F-22's oxygen woes are discovered and fixed. "I'm going to check out and fly the airplane so I can understand exactly what it is they're dealing with. The day we figure out what the problem is I will stop flying because we don't have enough sorties for all of our combat aviators to get as much training as they need," Hostage says.

"I don't feel like it's right that I ask them to do it and I'm not willing to do it myself," he adds.

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While Hostage did address the recent reports of the F-22 deploying to Al Dhafra, in the United Arab Emirates, he wouldn't confirm where the jet was deployed to, or where the aircraft came from, but the Raptor has deployed to Al Dhafra in previous years.

One source says the jets came from the 7th Fighter Squadron at the 49th Wing, based at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. He says that the deployment is routine and simply part of their air expeditionary forces rotation. Indeed, Hostage says the deployment was previously planned.