Was there a wide consensus in favor of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet before 60 Minutes reported on the plane's tendency to deprive its pilots of oxygen and become disoriented?
This strange framing introduces last night's otherwise excellent interview with two Air Force Raptor pilots-turned-whistleblowers who have come forward to warn of this particular set of dangers with the jet.
Here's how Lesley Stahl introduces her interview with Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Joshua Wilson:
“The shiniest jewel in the Air Force is its F-22 Raptor, a sleek, stealth fighter jet that the Pentagon says can outgun and outmaneuver any combat plane anywhere in the world. But for all its prowess, the Raptor has yet to be used in combat. It was designed to go up against an enemy with a sophisticated air force, which means it sat on the sidelines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving its 200 pilots to fly mainly training missions...
When you hear about the F-22, it's always in superlatives: the newest, fastest, stealthiest, highest-flying, most gravity-defying, enemy-killing combat machine in the sky.”
Other possible superlatives include the plane's prohibitive maintenance requirements (30 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight, according to a Pentagon report) and an incredibly high number of subcontractors needed to produce the jets (1,000 subcontractors in 40 states).
While 60 Minutes did a fine job of bringing out this mechanical issue with the F-22, the plane hasn't exactly been considered a champion up to now. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates successfully pushed for the end of production of the F-22 in 2009. The final F-22 rolled off the Lockheed Martin production line in December and was delivered to the Air Force just last week. Gates managed to cut the number of total jets the Air Force purchased by more than half to 187. There was a loud public political battle full of speeches by every politician who depended on defense contractors for campaign donations over the incredibly costly, not-particularly-useful program. But Stahl's reporting fails to provide any of this context in her story, which would have provided viewers some much-needed insight into the utter mess the program has become.
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin has responded by tweeting facts from its own description of the F-22 Raptor from its website. Not exactly a compelling defense.
The Washington Post went into significant detail about the Raptor's problems in this piece from 2009.
But who cares about the F-22, anyway? As Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh wrote in April, the future of military aircraft does not include pilots.