Boeing will re-launch on Friday the next major upgrade for the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor aboard the programme’s previously retired flying testbed.

The heavily modified 757, featuring a canard-mounted wing and the F-22’s nose radome, has been returned from “warm storage” to test a package of upgrades called increment 3.1.

Scheduled to be delivered in fiscal 2010, the US Air Force’s second major round of F-22 upgrades add an electronic attack function and integrates the Boeing GBU-39 small diameter bomb (SDB). Lockheed previously added an air to ground mode for surveillance and ground attack in increment 2, now operational.

Agile757 inside


As the contractor that supplies the aft fuselage and wings and integrates the systems for Lockheed’s advanced fighter, Boeing’s main role in increment 3.1 is to identify and fix any software bugs and glitches that may arise over the next two years.

In December, Boeing received approval to overhaul its approach to systems integration testing, bringing back the flying testbed and connecting it to a ground testing station.

Boeing’s renamed agile integration laboratory (AIL), which includes both the 757 and the ground laboratory, is intended to support the series of upgrades planned for the F-22.

Boeing also intends to offer the 757 as a flying testbed to other customers.

The company is already in talks with at least five other programmes about using the AIL to flight test a variety of payloads, although the F-22 as the project’s main sponsor will always receive first billing.

The first check out flight of the 757 testbed is expected to take place in the third week of June. The flight test phase for the increment 3.1 upgrades should start by the end of the month.