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Pentagon: F-22 whistleblower inquiry to finish in August

More than two years after a Hampton-based F-22 pilot's career stalled when he and a colleague spoke out about life-threatening problems with the Air Force's newest fighter jet, Pentagon investigators say they'll complete their investigation of his treatment in August.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner met Tuesday with officials of the Department of Defense inspector general and said he is pleased they're promising to deliver their findings by Aug. 30 if not sooner.

But Warner said he's angered that the investigation has taken years instead of months, calling it a message to service members that those who sound an alarm will be punished.

"What would be the rational person's reaction to this? 'Maybe I'll keep quiet.' And that's not the reaction I think we want from people in the military," Warner said. "We're now over 800 days since this process started. We've gone through three secretaries of defense. It's time to get an answer."

Capt. Joshua Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon, two Virginia Air National Guard pilots based at Langley Air Force Base, appeared in uniform on CBS's "60 Minutes" in May 2012. They warned that the state-of-the-art F-22 Raptor had a defective oxygen system that was endangering pilots.

Their comments sparked a strong Pentagon reaction, prompting the Air Force to spend tens of millions to fix the problem. Neither pilot has flown the Raptor since early 2012.

Wilson, who was the subject of a Virginian-Pilot report in April, said speaking out sparked reprisals from his Virginia Air National Guard commanders. He has said he wants to clear his reputation and return to flying the jet.

According to his written complaint and Air Force documents, a series of punitive actions began about the time the national broadcast was being prepared. His planned promotion to major was stopped and Guard leaders began a formal review that threatened to take away his wings and his ability to fly military or civilian aircraft.

His commanders also forced him to quit his full-time desk job at the Air Force's Air Combat Command, costing him most of his annual income of about $100,000.

In May, a Guard spokesman said that leaders had halted all actions against Wilson pending the outcome of the inspector general's investigation.

On Tuesday, the spokesman and Wilson's attorney, Rick Morgan, indicated in emails that hold has been lifted.

Spokesman Cotton Puryear wrote there is no longer a restriction on actions involving Wilson but said he could not disclose details of personnel issues.

Morgan wrote that a letter of reprimand issued in April 2012 by Wilson's commander accusing the pilot of refusing to fly the F-22 "was turned into an admonishment, which we understand to be technically non-disciplinary but nonetheless the only blemish on a distinguished and dedicated flying career."

At the same time, the Air National Guard has moved forward on a second, more serious issue: A flying evaluation board trial to determine whether to take away Wilson's wings has been scheduled for mid-September.

Gordon, a decorated F-16 pilot in the Iraq War, was barred from flying the plane not long after the "60 Minutes" broadcast. He has declined to be interviewed.

Tuesday's meeting between Warner, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger -- an Illinois Republican and Air National Guard pilot -- and defense officials did not include discussion of the details of the investigation, Warner said.

"We didn't press or ask," he said. "It would be inappropriate for them to say anything."

Morgan wrote that Wilson "deeply appreciates the continued efforts" of Warner and Kinzinger.

"We look forward to the conclusion of the Inspector General's investigation, and continue to rely on the integrity of the system of which Capt. Wilson is a proud part."

bill.bartel@pilotonline.com

 

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