In modern warfare, achieving unchallenged air supremacy is the most important requirement to win any battle. This is what the F-22 was built for and remained the number one priority of governments eager to construct a military force that is consistently victorious.
The US is no different, having first learned this lesson during World War Two after the introduction of its P-38, P-47, P-51, F4U, and F6F fighters helped it achieve air domination in every theatre of war.
By matching and excelling the fleets of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, the US realized that World War III could be prevented if their technology was always the best.
During the mid-1980s, with the ominous rumblings that the Soviets were developing new fighters, the US Air Force (USAF) made moves to create the most powerful air superiority craft to date. The F-22 Raptor is considered one of the first fifth-generation tactical aircraft, renowned for its incorporation of the most advanced modern technology available.
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Although it would be lauded for its breathtaking innovations, the Raptor would ultimately meet its demise not because of any technical weakness, but because of political events beyond its control.
In 1981 USAF was looking for a successor to its F-15, an air superiority fighter that at that time had only been in service for 7 years.
Head and shoulders above its Soviet counterparts, the F-15 was the best of its generation, even becoming the first airplane ever to exceed the speed of sound while climbing in altitude.
However, from the mid to late 1980s, the situation changed when the Soviet Union introduced a draft of new jets, such as the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum and the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, to counter American planes.
With the threat of even more advanced Soviet aircraft looming on the horizon, USAF now required a craft that could surpass them.
As well as being cost-effective, it would have to fly and maneuver at supersonic speed, be stealthy, and achieve the lowest hours of maintenance per hour of flight time of any air vehicle.
Following the establishment of the System Program Office (SPO) in 1983, the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATP) competition commenced in September, with concept designs submitted by July 1984.
After being reviewed by a panel of judges, the SPO awarded 7 contracts worth 1 million dollars to Boeing, General Dynamics, Grumman, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, Rockwell International, and North American Aircraft.
In order to counteract the astronomical costs of the early developmental phase, Lockheed teamed up with Boeing and General Dynamics, getting to work on the YF-22 and YF023 prototypes that would help them pass the Demonstration and Validation phase starting in October 1985.
In 1986, the YF-22 was chosen alongside the YF-23 model of rival pairing Northrop and McDonnell Douglas to undergo engineering and manufacturing development.
5 years of hard work culminated in late 1990 when the YF-22 went head to head with the YF-23 to prove which was superior.
The results were revealed by Secretary of the Air Force Donald Rice in April 1991, who announced that Lockheed and its partners would receive the contract after winning a fierce 8-year battle with Northrop.
Development and Testing
To create the most groundbreaking fighter jet of its era, Lockheed, now Lockheed-Martin after its 1995 merger, and Boeing divided up responsibilities.
As well as being project leaders, Lockheed-Martin and their team based at Marietta in Georgia would manage the engineering of the nose, the forward fuselage with its cockpit and inlets, the wing leading edge, the fins and stabilators, the flaps, ailerons, and landing gear, as well as final assembly.
Another division of Lockheed, Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems at Fort Worth, Texas, was tasked with installing the systems that would control communications, navigation, identification, weapon support, and electronic warfare, as well as building the centre fuselage and overseeing stores management.
Boeing were charged with building the wings, aft fuselage, and the structures needed to support engine and nozzle installation.
They were also required to develop avionics integration, 70 percent of the mission software in addition to the training, life support, and fire protection systems. By April 2005, Boeing had delivered 61 sets of wings, 66 aft fuselages, and multiple updates to the avionics systems.
The first of 9 F-22 craft to be used for testing purposes was unveiled at a ceremony in April 1997 attended by Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and Pratt and Whitney who made the engines.
It was here that General Richard Hawley, commander of USAF’s Air Combat Command, to the excitement of the 2500 guests in attendance, proclaimed that the fighter would be called the Raptor.
Next, after 44,000 hours of wind tunnel tests and 13,000 material sample tests over a development phase of 6 years, the F-22, commanded by Lockheed-Martin chief pilot Paul Metz, was ready to take its first trip into the skies in September 1997.
Wearing his lucky Super Chicken t-shirt underneath his pilot outfit, Metz took off, pulling the Raptor’s nose up and gaining speed and altitude rapidly.
Pilot Jon Beesley, who was operating an F-16 acting as a safety aircraft, followed behind in afterburner mode and was barely able to keep up with the F-22 as it tore through the air. After performing two laps on a triangular route over north Georgia without incident, Metz turned the plane back to the airfield where it touched down 58 minutes later.
It was the first of the 3,469 flights and 7,616 test hours that were to follow before Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was attained in December 2005. From August 2001 it was approved for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP), with the first unit being completed by June 2003.
The F-22 Raptor is 62 feet and 1 inch in length, 16 feet and 8 inches in height, and has a weight of 43,340 pounds. It has a wingspan of 44 feet and 13 inches, a wing area of 840 feet squared, and a horizontal tail span of 29 feet.
The F-22 is fitted with two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines that each generate 35,000 pounds of thrust unmatched by any existing technology.
They are fed by an internal tank that can hold up to 18,000 pounds of fuel and 2 receptacles located in the wings that can contain a maximum of 26,000 pounds of fuel.
One of the most revolutionary innovations is its ‘super cruise’ function, which allows it to maintain supersonic speeds faster than Mach 1.5 for extended periods without using conventional afterburners. The F-22 also has an altitude ceiling of above 50,000 feet and a range of more than 1,850 miles.
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Thanks to its advanced flight controls, thrust vectoring, and high thrust-to-weight ratio, the F-22 is the most agile fighter jet on the planet, capable of performing sharp mid-air turns even at the highest velocities.
Furthermore, the F-22 possesses six AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders which it fires with the help of sophisticated software that helps the pilot to track, identify, and destroy air targets before being detected.
It can also neutralize enemies on the ground using two 1,000-pound GBU-32 JDAMs and one M61A2 20-millimeter cannon, which has an ammo capacity of 480 rounds.
As well as being lethal, the F-22 is also incredibly stealthy, reducing its radar signature significantly with the sleekness of its body.
It is camouflaged by the matching swept angles of the leading and trailing edges of its wings and tailplanes, oblique lines in the canopy and fuselage, and sloping and sawtoothed lines fashioned into surface components.
The concealed shape of the F-22, in combination with its integrated avionics and supercruise functionality, also makes it extremely hard for a surface-to-air missile to hit it and allows it to pull off devastatingly effective surprise attacks.
In 2006, the National Aeronautical Association awarded Lockheed-Martin the Collier Trophy, the most distinguished prize in American aviation, recognizing the company’s role in the birthing of the Raptor.
Yet this would be the F-22’s peak, for in the years that followed it became mired in controversy over its suitability in a post-Cold War climate.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the forecasted surge of next-generation Soviet fighter jets the F-22 was designed to combat never materialized, leading many to speculate if this highly expensive aircraft, which cost 143 million dollars to make, was even needed.
Indeed, the planned production of F-22s had plummeted from 648 in 1991 to just 175 by 2009 after a total program cost of 67.3 billion as of December 2010.
In addition, the US government was prohibited from selling F-22s to other countries because of the Annual Provision Prohibiting Foreign Sales of F-22s called the ‘Obey’ amendment promulgated in 1998, meaning they couldn’t make any money from the Raptor either.
It was also plagued by other issues that dug into its budget. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office found that the F-22s were corroding at a higher-than-usual rate, with 228 million dollars having to be approved in order to fix deteriorating aluminum skin panels.
Lastly, a November 2010 crash that killed its pilot over Alaska revealed serious problems with the oxygen supply. 25 other pilots also experienced similar hypoxia-like symptoms including headaches, nausea, fatigue, and blackouts, prompting an investigation carried out by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.
They discovered that glitches with cockpit equipment and faulty valves attached to vests designed to help pilots breathe at high speeds were to blame.
End of Production
In 2009, USAF announced it was discontinuing the assembly of the F-22 in April 2009. 25,000 jobs would be lost and only 187 of the original 195 were to be finished as a result. On May 2nd, 2012, Lockheed delivered its last ever F-22 Raptor to USAF after a production cycle lasting 15 years.
Despite no longer being made the F-22, housed in 7 military bases, is still the flagship fighter jet and star of USAF’s Global Strike Task Force, a unit ready to be deployed anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. One of these places was Syria, where in December 2014 it made its combat debut destroying the strongholds of ISIS terrorists.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 62 ft 1 in (18.92 m)
- Wingspan: 44 ft 6 in (13.56 m)
- Height: 16 ft 8 in (5.08 m)
- Empty weight: 43,340 lb (19,700 kg)
- Gross weight: 64,840 lb (29,410 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 83,500 lb (38,000 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 augmented turbofans, 26,000 lbf (116 kN) thrust each dry, 35,000 lbf (156 kN) with afterburner
- Range: 1,600 nmi (1,800 mi, 3,000 km) or more with 2 external fuel tanks
- Service ceiling: 65,000 ft (20,000 m)