The USAF’s Lockheed F-22A Raptor will make its debut at Farnborough later today performing a routine which is claimed to include “unequalled aerodynamic manoeuvres”
The F-22A’s unique bland of ‘Low Observability’ (radar stealth), supercruise performance, agility and advanced avionics makes it a fifth-generation fighter, according to Lockheed Martin, which points to recent exercise results to support its claim that the Raptor is the “most lethal, survivable and reliable fighter the world has ever seen”.
Three F-22As from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, Virginia, flew into Fairford last Tuesday, to participate in the Royal International Air Tattoo. One of the trio will display at Farnborough today, before returning to the US. The display includes the F-22A’s trademark J-turn – accomplished with the aid of thrust vectoring, and some post-stall manoeuvring that reminded some Fairford observers of the MiG-29OVT’s eye-popping display routine.
There was great disappointment at the Fairford show as appalling weather conditions led to cancellation of the weekend’s flying but for those who were able to see Friday’s debut appearance there was general agreement that this was the clear display highlight.
Demonstration pilot Maj Paul ‘Max’ Moga from the USAF’s 27th Fighter Squadron, who will be flying at Farnborough today.talked about the flight from the US.
“Getting over here was flawless,” says Moga. Supported by a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 tanker, each of the F-22s received fuel 11 times during the sortie – the first transatlantic flight involving the Raptor. This high number was due to a requirement to ensure that each of the stealth fighters had sufficient fuel reserves to be able to divert to a suitable airfield if necessary.
The deployment took place at altitudes of up to the high-20,000ft bracket, said RAF F-22 exchange pilot Flt Lt Dan Robinson, who had the distinction of landing the first Raptor to touch down on UK soil. Also an instructor on the US type, Robinson was formerly a qualified weapons instructor on the RAF’s Tornado F3 fighter.
© Craig Hoyle
Demonstration team superintendent Master Sgt Tim Green said: “The three aircraft that flew over were ‘Code One’ when they landed. They were solid airplanes.” The deployment involves around 25 support personnel, as opposed to a core team of two crew chiefs and four specialists who usually support a one-aircraft commitment to air shows in the USA.
Moga performed an approximately 10min display at Fairford, with highlights including several high angle of attack, low-speed manoeuvres, a power loop and a non-conformal loop. Noting that the routine was created as “safe, repeatable and to showcase the F-22’s unique capabilities”, he said it also includes several tactical manoeuvres “familiar to any Raptor pilot”.
A slightly revised display routine was validated at Farnborough on July 10, with some changes required due to the event’s increased minimum safety ceiling of 500ft. Following the detachment’s return home after the opening day tomorrow, Robinson says the 27th FS will participate in an air combat exercise to be hosted at a yet-to-be confirmed location in the US in late August
The USAF’s F-22 community faces a continued challenge in finding suitable opponents to practice air-to-air combat, with the type’s participation in a recent Cope Thunder exercise in Canada having seen it record a combat success ratio of 144:0. “It’s a very real problem to find a suitable adversary,” says Robinson.
The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley was the first frontline unit to receive the F-22A, where the aircraft also equips its ‘associate’ 192nd Fighter Wing – an Air National Guard unit. The base thus hosts three Raptor squadrons – the 27th Fighter Squadron, the 94th and the 149th (ANG).
At Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, the F-22A is equipping the 3rd Wing’s 90th and 525th Fighter Squadrons and Air Force Reserve Command's 477th Fighter Group (with the 302nd Fighter Squadron). The first Raptors have now been delivered to the 7th Fighter Squadron at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, where they will equip two of the 49th Wing’s squadrons, and a final Raptor squadron will form at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. Raptors also serve with the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall AFB, and the 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, for training and test duties, respectively.
But while the Raptor’s performance and agility is self-evident, and while its ‘stealth’ characteristics are well-known, the aircraft is hugely expensive, with a unit programme cost of $361 million per aircraft. As a result the programme, once intended to deliver 750 F-22s to the USAF, has been cut short. Just 183 aircraft are on contract, 121 of which have been delivered.
And though capable, the Raptor has some shortcomings. With no helmet-mounted sight, the aircraft’s ability to engage off-boresight targets is constrained, while the lack of a suitable datalink means that the aircraft cannot share its sensor data across the net-enabled ‘Global Information Grid’, except with other F-22s. There are also concerns that some avionics and equipment items are nearing obsolescence, and a radar upgrade has been quietly instigated.
In service, the F-22A will be augmented by much larger numbers of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, which share many of the Raptor’s ‘Fifth Generation’ features, at considerably lower cost. The F-22 itself is unlikely to be cleared for export, but many see the aircraft’s presence at Farnborough as marking an early marketing effort for the F-35 – which is still only flying in prototype form.
* A cutaway of the F-22 can be seen on Page 68 – artist Giuseppe Picarella will be on site to sign copies of the drawing.