Today’s Warbirds article is on America’s first operational 5th generation fighter aircraft – the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. Her first flight occurred on 7 September, 1997.
Initial development of the aircraft was under the moniker YF-22. It was Lockheed Martin’s entry into the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition. Though Northrop’s YF-23 was stealthier and faster, the agility of the YF-22 (and possibly the adaptability to carrier operations) won out. In 1991, the Secretary of the Air Force announced that the Raptor had won the competition and that he would recommend an order of 650 to 750 of the aircraft.
Produced at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, Georgia, the first production F-22 was delivered to Nellis AFB in Nevada in January of 2003. Because of design changes made during development and production as well as rising costs, the Air Force reduced its announced requirement of aircraft to 381 in 2006. Weight increased and capabilities were dropped; all in the name of cost efficiency. Also, to garner wider support from Congress, subcontractors in 46 states were granted contracts for components for the aircraft. It took roughly 1000 contractors and 95,000 workers to produce just two aircraft per month. this production complexity led to even higher costs and more production delays. In the end, from the initial order of 750 aircraft with a total cost of $26.2 billion, the Air Force would acquire only 187 Raptors for $66.7 billion.
The F-22 Raptor has 3 internal weapons bays that help maintain its stealthy mission profile. It can carry six compressed-carriage medium range missiles in the center bay and one short-range missile in each of the two side bays. Four of the medium range missiles can be replaced with two bomb racks that can each carry one medium-size bomb or four small diameter bombs. A key feature of this design is to allow weapons launch while maintaining super cruise speeds. The aircraft does incorporate 4 additional hardpoints on the wings with 5000 pounds of carrying capacity. However, use of weapons or fuel tanks on these mounts detrimentally affects maneuverability, speed, and stealth.
By late 2005, the Raptor had reached its Initial Operational Capability. Deployments began in 2007 with the stationing of 6 F-22’s from Hickam AFB in Hawaii to Okinawa, Japan. However, computer malfunctions occurred as they crossed the international date line causing the aircraft to return home for 2 days of software upgrades. Later overseas deployments would include Kadena in Japan, Osan AB in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and other undisclosed locations in the middle east. To this date, not confirmed combat participation by an F-22 has taken place.
Even today, bugs continue to plague the Raptor. Cost per flight hour exceeds $68,000 and they require more than 10 hours of maintenance per hour of flight. Though the stealth coatings on the aircraft are more durable than previous aircraft, a short deployment to Guam revealed numerous electronic failures caused by rain. Most concerning of all are the reported hypoxia-like symptoms described by Raptor pilots during high gee maneuvering. In 2012 Lockheed was awarded a contract to install a supplemental oxygen system to mitigate the problem.
Initially touted as the next generation replacement for the F-117 Nighthawk, the F-22 Raptor program is already winding down. The assembly line at Lockheed is closed and the plans for the aircraft have been digitized and put away into secure archives. As the F-35 is still non-operational, the services have fallen back on plans to repair their ageing F-15s and upgrading their F/A-18s. Hopefully the existing fleet of F-22’s will be able to hold the line against the emerging threat of new Russian and Chinese 5th generation aircraft.
Here is some cool HD video of the F-22 in action.
And here is the Battle Stations video detailing the history of the F-22 Raptor.
If you want to see more great photos of the Raptor, check out the archives at AviationSpectator.com . Details on specifications and capabilities can be found on the Federation of American Scientists website.