Attorney for whistle blowing Raptor pilot renews call for disciplinary action to be dropped
By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press, Newport News, Va. | Published: June 16, 2012
A whistle-blowing F-22 pilot from Langley Air Force Base should not be punished for airing complaints about the aircraft that later proved valid, his attorney said Friday.
Frederick M. Morgan Jr., who represents Capt. Josh Wilson of the Virginia Air National Guard, renewed his call for the withdrawal of a letter of reprimand against his client. Dropping any disciplinary action and reinstating Wilson to full duty and privileges "are a critical first step," Morgan said from his office in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon of the 192nd Fighter Wing made national headlines last month when they spoke to CBS' "60 Minutes" about their concerns with the Raptor.
The attorney's comments came one day after two members of Congress publicized a study from a major defense contractor that appeared to validate Wilson's concerns about the Raptor, an advanced fighter jet with a mysterious oxygen-supply problem that has rendered some pilots dizzy and disoriented. One fatal crash has been linked to the problem.
Virginia Sen. Mark R. Warner and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., released a report from Boeing about a charcoal air filter installed as a safety measure. Boeing determined that the filter made it more difficult for the pilots to breathe and formally recommended it be pulled from the aircraft. That recommendation was handed down April 2 and the Air Force removed the filter about one month later.
Wilson's disciplinary case took shape around the time of the Boeing study.
First, Wilson expressed concern to commanders that the filter was making things worse in the cockpit, not better. He cited an Air Force doctor's opinion that he not fly with the filter installed. Then in early April – within days of the Boeing study, Morgan said – Wilson's commanders refused to renew his orders to serve with Air Combat Command. Losing that full-time duty reduced his annual pay 90 percent and ended many of his military benefits, Morgan said.
In mid-April, Wilson received a formal letter of reprimand. He responded to that on May 5, but the matter has yet to be resolved. Also, a pending appearance before a Flying Evaluation Board is apparently on hold.
The Virginia Air National Guard did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
Last month, the commander of the 192nd Fighter Wing said he could not comment on details of personnel actions. Col. Thomas K. Wark said the Guard supports the rights of service members to come forward under the Military Whistleblower Act and would not use disciplinary or administrative actions "as a means of reprisal."
Since April, the Senate Armed Services Committee has examined the matter. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and a four-star Air Force general have acknowledged that Gordon and Wilson are legally protected as whistle blowers. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered flight restrictions for the Raptor and required installation of a backup, automatic oxygen supply.
Also, Air Combat Command has told Raptor pilots to cease wearing a pressure vest that has proven to be unreliable, and the Warner/Kinzinger probe has cast the rate of oxygen-deprivation as much higher than the Air Force has described, besides releasing the Boeing study.
Warner and Kinzinger have repeatedly called for all disciplinary action to be lifted, saying the Air Force must create a a culture where pilots are not afraid to come forward for fear of retribution.
"Despite all this, the actions imposed on Captain Wilson are unchanged," Morgan said in a statement, and "the day-to-day effect on him and his family is obvious."