Here is a video showcasing the capability of the US Air Force’s first F-22A flight demonstration routine, now wowing audiences at North American air shows and challenging perceptions of the Raptor.
This fighter best known for stealth, speed and sensors, has been designed to evade radar, supercruise above Mach 1.5 and fly at 65,000ft.
With its two Pratt & Whitney F119 engines vectoring their 35,000lb of afterburning thrust through +/-20º as an integral part of the flight-control system, the F-22 proves itself to be surprisingly agile, performing helicopter turns, tailsides and backflips.
In the 5-11 June issue of Flight International, published on Monday, we look at how the US Air Force’s initial operational successes with the F-22 in exercises is fuelling interest in the stealth fighter from potential export customers like Japan.
Now the airshow routine is making people see the Raptor as a more rounded fighter, adept at close-in dogfighting and not just optimised for high-speed, high-altitude beyond visual range combat.
Unable to convey the Raptor’s speed and altitude capability at an airshow, the display routine is designed to demonstrate the F-22’s high power-to-weight ratio, unlimited angle-of-attack capability and post-stall controllability.
Lockheed Martin now talks about the Raptor’s “super-aero” capability, a term coined to describe its combination of agility, acceleration, and ability to cruise supersonically without reheat and “fly higher than any adversary”, says Larry Lawson, F-22 programme general manager.
Super-aero “provides the ability to control the airspace”, Lawson says. “The aircraft has an incredible ability to see, engage and disengage at will,” he adds.
Lawson says the three legs of the F-22’s capability – stealth, the situational awareness provided by onboard and offboard sensor fusion, and super-aero – are “why the Raptor gets the exchange ratios it is getting.”
In the first week of last year’s Northern Edge exercise in Alaska, for example, the F-22 achieved an unprecedented 114:0 kill ratio. “There are no leakers,” says Lawson. The F-22 has the ability to re-engage and defeat them before they can engage.”
The flight demonstration shows an aircraft with power and agility, able to pull sharply up into a vertical climb, slow to zero airspeed and either backflip end-over-end or tailslide into a flat spin, pointing the nose left and right in “helicopter turns”.
After the obligatory “low and slow” high angle-of-attack pass, the Raptor pulls up into a 360º loop “to show it has not run out of energy”, says Lawson.
Thrust vectoring, which is transparent to the pilot, is used, at low speed to increase the turn rate and “yank the nose round”. At high speed, Lawson says, it used “to control the area it takes up to make a turn a Mach 2”.
New manoeuvres will be added to the airshow routine as confidence develops. The F-22 can already perform the “cobra” manoeuvre pioneered by the Sukhoi Su-27, says Lawson, “and we are talking about lighting the afterburner in a tailslide and simply ‘parking’ the aircraft in the sky.”
There is always debate about the relevance of airshow manoeuvres to combat, but Lawson says the routine demonstrates “how well we can point the nose, and go to any angle of attack we want to. It shows the kind of operational capability we have”.