Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

The US Air Force is restructuring the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor flight test programme to recover a substantial shortfall in test flying due to delays in aircraft deliveries.


Test aircraft accumulated only 324h of a planned 590h last year. Flying was constrained by late delivery of aircraft; canopy transparency cracks; flaperon repairs; problems with aileron hinge pins, the environmental control system and emergency arrester hook; and inlet delamination inspections.

To date, since the first flight in September 1997, F-22s have accumulated around 900h of 3,760h testing planned by the completion of engineering and manufacturing development (EMD), scheduled for August next year.

Acknowledging the slow pace of flight tests, the USAF says it is revising plans for airframe, avionics and logistics testing. The plans are to be finalised by mid-April.

Only 2h of 300h avionics flight-testing planned for last year were accomplished, says a critical US General Accounting Office (GAO) report. Almost 1,900h of avionics testing remains to be completed by August next year.

The GAO recommends low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the F-22 be limited to 10 a year until completion of initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E). Current plans call for procurement of 10 in fiscal year 2001, 16 in FY02 and 24 in FY03, with full 36-a-year production beginning in FY04.

A flight test Tiger Team formed by the USAF has recommended slipping the start of IOT&E by four to six months from August next year to provide more time for flight testing. Other recommendations include adding a fourth mission control team at the Edwards AFB, California, flight-test site to increase the sortie rate from eight to 10 a week.

The US Department of Defense Director of Operational Test & Evaluation believes IOT&E may have to be delayed by nine months to a year to complete required testing. This would jeopardise the December 2005 initial operational capability (IOC) date.

Four F-22s are at Edwards, and all nine development aircraft are to be delivered by the end of the year. While production approval has been delayed by the Bush Administration's defence review, the USAF says limiting LRIP to 10 a year will increase cost and delay IOC.

Source: Flight International