The F-22 Raptor programme has taken something of a beating from the USAF – of an original forecast order of 750 of the type, only 381 have survived. A planned two-seat trainer version was cancelled entirely.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm remains high for the aircraft that Lockheed Martin executive vice-president Dain Hancock described in a press conference at the show yesterday as "leading the future in air power projection".

The aircraft was designed as a stealthy air defence fighter to replace the Boeing F-15, and is expected to enter service from 2005. It was always planned to be superior to any other fighter, allowing the USAF to achieve air dominance.

F-22 chief test pilot Brett Luedke described the "blend of three revolutionary technologies" which give the aircraft its "transformational warfighting capabilities".

These consist of stealth, which Luedke says reduces the aircraft's radar signature to that of a bird or bee; supercruise which is the ability to sustain supersonic speed in dry power; and its integrated avionics suite, which is claimed to give the Raptor pilot a 360° view and better situational awareness than is available to ground-based controllers.

Luedke also admitted that in addition to its formidable capabilities, his aircraft was "flat out fun to fly".

Today, eight development aircraft are in use (one permanently grounded as a battle damage assessment aircraft) and seven more are in build.

Lockheed Martin has received two production contracts to build 23 operational F-22s, and in the 2003 financial year budget, the Bush administration has requested 23 more.

The USAF currently requires at least 381 aircraft to support its planned force structure, although the enormously high cost of the aircraft may lead to further cutbacks.

Source: Flight Daily News