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For more than a year and a half the Brian Ross Unit investigated the potentially deadly design flaws hidden in the crown jewel of the U.S. Air Force, the F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter plane in history. Digital reporter Lee Ferran and editor Mark Schone produced more than 30 web reports or blogs, starting with the story of the death of a gifted pilot and mid-air scares for dozens more, and then digging into the Pentagon’s dangerous policy of letting pilots fly planes it knew were broken. The Ross team uncovered a document showing the Air Force was aware of serious design flaws in its prize plane, and its web pieces questioned whether the service valued the reputation of a troubled $79 billion weapons system more than the safety of its airmen. Part of the investigation challenged the Air Force’s conclusion that the death of F-22 pilot Capt. Jeff Haney was his own fault. The Air Force blamed Haney even though his plane suffered a catastrophic malfunction just seconds before he crashed. The online series was so powerful that both “Nightline” and “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” asked the Ross team to prepare reports for broadcast as well. On May 2, 2012, in an exclusive interview that appeared both on-air and online, Haney’s sister, Jennifer, said that she suspected the Air Force was tarnishing her brother’s memory to keep heat off the flawed plane. After the ABC News online reports about the crash, the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office announced it planned to review the Air Force’s investigation – the first major crash review by the IG in more than a decade. For years, the Air Force had also been contending with another mysterious and possibly deadly flaw in the F-22 -- one that randomly caused pilots to experience symptoms of oxygen deprivation. It wasn’t until ABC News began asking questions, however, that Defense Secretary Panetta was forced to address the issue publicly. The Air Force repeatedly declined Ferran’s on-camera interview requests, but said it was his dogged attempts that pushed the service to give press briefings on the plane’s problems. Finally, the investigation uncovered a 12-year-old internal document that revealed the Air Force had long been aware of one of the plane’s potentially deadly design flaws but had neglected to fix it. In 2012, under public scrutiny inspired by the Ross team’s reporting, the Air Force addressed the flaw, and made another adjustment designed to protect pilots. Since then it has reported no further oxygen deprivation incidents.
SVT investigated the selling of the Swedish fighter plane, the Gripen to the Czech government. In result the news organization uncovered bribery of politicians, the Austrian Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, a former Canadian government minister and a Czech weapons dealer. This prompted further investigation into two other Gripen deals between Hungary and South Africa.
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program is a plan to build a family of fighter planes for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Britain's Royal Navy. If built, the JSF will be -- according to the Congressional Budget Office -- the most expensive program in Pentagon history. The irony behind the mega-billion dollar price tag is that the JSF is trumpeted as a money-saver.
Common Cause Magazine article on how Northrop and General Dynamics used media campaigns, lobbying and campaign contributions as weapons in the battle to sell their fighter planes to the Pentagon, March/April 1986.