An Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet has crashed onto a Florida Panhandle highway, but the pilot was able to eject safely and there were no immediate reports of injuries on the ground, the military says.
The single-seat stealth fighter, part of a programme that has been plagued with problems, went down on Thursday afternoon (this morning, NZT) near Tyndall Air Force Base, just south of Panama City. The pilot was receiving medical treatment at the base and a section of a highway 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 US$190 million (NZ$234m) 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 programme 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 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 programme that was already well over budget.