Is the Air Force's F-22 fighter jet making pilots sick?

Two military pilots won't fly the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force's most sophisticated fighter plane, because they say a lack of oxygen during flight is causing disorientation and worse

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Lesley Stahl: You just couldn't figure it out.

Josh Wilson: I couldn't figure out. I did not know where it was.

The Air Force says Josh's extreme disorientation resembled a condition called hypoxia or oxygen deprivation. In training, pilots in that state can have trouble even identifying a playing card.

Jeremy Gordon: The onset of this is insidious. Some pilots will go the entire mission, land, and not know anything went wrong. There was a publicly announced incident of a jet in Alaska hitting a tree and the pilot was not aware that he ran into a tree.

Lesley Stahl: He didn't know he hit a tree?

Jeremy Gordon: That's correct.

After Josh's incident, his symptoms were so severe, the Air Force sent him to a hyperbaric chamber.

Lesley Stahl: Hyperbaric, like the bends. This is the first time we've heard that pilots are going into hyperbaric chambers.

Josh Wilson: We've had several.

Even pilots who never had a physiological incident in the air had problems on the ground, in the days after they fly the plane.

Jeremy Gordon: Amongst F-22 pilots, there's a term called the "raptor cough," that is--

Lesley Stahl: The "raptor cough"?

Jeremy Gordon: In a room full of F-22 pilots, the vast majority will be coughing a lot of the times. Other things-- laying down for bed at night after flying and getting just the spinning room feeling, dizziness, tumbling, vertigo kind of stuff.

Lesley Stahl: I had heard that other pilots, because of their fears of crashing from their own vertigo, whatever, that they're taking out additional life insurance policies.

Josh Wilson: They are. Absolutely. We are waiting for something to happen. And if it happens, nobody's going to be surprised. I think it's a matter of time.

After a rash of similar hypoxia incidents, the Air Force took the radical step of grounding the entire F-22 fleet in May of 2011. The Pentagon revealed there had been 14 of these events in the previous three years, a rate described by its own scientific advisory board as "unusually high...and unacceptable."

Josh Wilson: We've got two theories with the jet right now. On the one hand, we're not getting the quality or the quantity of oxygen that we need. On the other hand, they're thinking contaminants. Somehow we're not getting what we need, or we're getting poisoned.

The Air Force launched an investigation that focused on the plane's onboard oxygen-generating system, or "OBOGS", which takes air from outside the jet, passes it through the engine and through a chemical process to produce a concentrated oxygen that the pilots breathe.