Exclusive: Panetta's F-22 Raptor Order Too Late to Save Pilot, Sister Says

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Air Force Waited Months for Recommendation on Back-Up System

When asked why the Air Force had not considered installing an automatic back-up emergency system earlier, an Air Force spokesperson told ABC News Wednesday that the service had waited for the results of a scientific board study into the mysterious "hypoxia-like symptoms" -- but that board was not ordered to look into the F-22 issues until June 2011, more than six months after Haney's crash and more than three years after the first "hypoxia-like" incident.

When the board did release its findings in March, of the 14 recommendations made to the Air Force, the first was to "develop and install an automatic Back-up Oxygen Supply to the F-22 life support system." The Air Force officials said then they agreed and made plans to implement the system.

Under Panetta's new directive, the Air Force was told to expedite the installation of the system, which the Pentagon said is still months away.

Panetta also directed flight distance restrictions for the jets meant to keep them in close proximity to any possible landing strips in case of mid-air emergencies, Pentagon spokesperson George Little said Wednesday. In Alaska, where Capt. Haney had flown, that means other older planes are taking over long-distance training missions that the F-22s are no longer allowed to fly.

The stealth F-22 Raptor, at an estimated $420 million each, is America's most expensive fighter jet. Despite going combat ready in late 2005, the plane has yet to take off for a single combat mission. The whole fleet, estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers up to $79 billion, was grounded for nearly five months last year as the Air Force investigated the mystery problem, but a solution was never found and the Air Force has cautiously allowed the planes to fly since.

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