Last month on 19 April, the US Air Force’s F-22 Combined Test Force (CTF) completed the 1,000th sortie on tail number 4007 at Edwards AFB, California. The aircraft is currently testing the Increment 3.2A software upgrade package which will add new electronic protection measures and new combat identification capabilities to the Raptor fleet.
“This sortie was one of the first flight tests of Increment 3.2A, the next major software upgrade to the aircraft which will enhance its lethality and self-defense capability,” Lt Col Devin Traynor, F-22 CTF director of operations.
Though the USAF says that 4007 is the oldest Raptor out there flying–it’s been flying since the engineering manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the program, there is an older Raptor that’s still on flyable status–4006. Other old EMD jets, 4004 and 4005 are being used as maintenance trainers at Tyndall AFB, Fla., and Langley AFB, Va., respectively.
There has been some debate as to what to do with Ship 6–as an old one of a kind EMD jet, it’s expensive to maintain. While it’s on flyable status, there have been discussions about retiring it, and as of right now, there are no plans to fly it again. That being said, it’s not heading to a museum anytime soon.
The USAF has only a tiny fraction of the Raptor fleet it once envisioned, so there has been some talk about bringing 4006 up to the Block 10 standard. It would be expensive, but it would cost far less than a new airframe–not that a new airframe is a realistic option since the F-22 production line ended last year.
The money could be drawn from the funds allocated to modernize tail 4013, which crashed late last year, and therefore will never use the cash allocated to bring it up to the Block 20 standard. “The sequester has put a damper on things for now,” a source says.