In the realm of cutting-edge aviation, the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor stands as a testament to American innovation. This formidable aircraft, born out of the United States Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, transcends the traditional definition of an air superiority fighter. Unveiled to the world in 1997, the F-22 Raptor seamlessly melds a single-seat, twin-engine design with supersonic capabilities, all-weather stealth, and a multifaceted arsenal.
As per reports in the open sources, the aircraft crafted primarily by Lockheed Martin, with Boeing contributing to vital components such as wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems, the F-22 represents a pinnacle in technological prowess. Its maiden flight marked the beginning of a new era in aerial dominance, with formal service entry achieved in December 2005 under the designation F-22A.
Originally conceived with ambitious plans to acquire 750 ATFs, the program faced a recalibration in 2009. The decision to trim production to 187 aircraft was driven by factors such as exorbitant costs, a temporal lack of air-to-air missions, and the emergence of the more economically viable and versatile F-35. The F-22 Raptor remains a symbol of precision and adaptability, a cornerstone in the ever-evolving landscape of military aviation.
The F-22 Raptor’s form is a sophisticated fusion of stealth technology and aerodynamic prowess. Its design intricately blends planform and panel edges, ensuring a continuous curvature to minimize radar cross-section. The distinctive clipped diamond-like delta wings seamlessly meld into the angular fuselage, complemented by four empennage surfaces and leading edge root extensions reaching the upper outboard corner of the caret inlets. The upper edges of the inlets harmoniously meet the forebody chines of the fuselage.
The aircraft’s flight control arsenal includes leading-edge flaps, flaperons, ailerons, canted vertical stabilizers housing rudders, and all-moving horizontal tails (stabilators). For speed brake functionality, ailerons deflect upward, flaperons downward, and rudders outward, enhancing drag. The emphasis on supersonic performance is evident in the extensive application of area rule shaping, with the majority of the fuselage volume located ahead of the wing’s trailing edge. The stabilators pivot from tail booms extending beyond the engine nozzles.
Strategically designed for stealth, the F-22 conceals its weaponry internally within the fuselage. Additional features include a centrally positioned refueling boom receptacle on the spine, retractable tricycle landing gear, emergency tailhook, fire suppression system, and fuel tank inerting system, all contributing to enhanced survivability.
Powering the F-22 are dual Pratt & Whitney F119 augmented turbofan engines, closely spaced and equipped with pitch-axis thrust vectoring nozzles spanning a range of ±20 degrees. These nozzles seamlessly integrate into the F-22’s flight controls and vehicle management system. Each engine boasts maximum thrust in the 35,000 lbf (156 kN) class, yielding a thrust-to-weight ratio nearly at unity in maximum military power and 1.25 in full afterburner at typical combat weight.
The aircraft’s caret inlets, strategically offset from the forward fuselage, divert the boundary layer, generating oblique shocks with the upper inboard corners to ensure optimal total pressure recovery and efficient supersonic flow compression. The F-22 achieves a maximum speed of approximately Mach 1.8 at military power, surpassing Mach 2 with afterburners engaged. With a substantial internal fuel capacity of 18,000 lb (8,165 kg) and an additional 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) in two 600-gallon external tanks, the F-22 exhibits an impressive ferry range exceeding 1,600 nautical miles (1,840 mi; 2,960 km).
The F-22 Raptor’s operational versatility positions it as more than just a formidable air superiority fighter. With a threat detection and identification capability comparable to the RC-135 Rivet Joint, the aircraft takes on the role of a “mini-AWACS” close to the battlefield. While its radar may not match the power of dedicated platforms, the F-22’s agility allows it to rapidly designate targets for allies and coordinate friendly aircraft.
Internally, the F-22 is equipped with three weapons bays. The primary bay, situated on the bottom of the fuselage, can house six LAU-142/A launchers for beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles. Two smaller bays on the sides of the fuselage, positioned aft of the engine inlets, each accommodate an LAU-141/A launcher for short-range missiles. Additionally, countermeasures such as flares find a home in a small bay behind each side bay. The F-22’s arsenal includes AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, with plans for integration of the AIM-260 JATM.
For stealth and reduced vulnerability, the F-22 conducts missile launches with its bay doors open for less than a second. Pneumatic or hydraulic arms swiftly propel missiles clear of the aircraft during this brief window, minimizing the risk of detection and enabling launches even at high speeds.
While the F-22 typically carries its weaponry internally, the aircraft features four hardpoints on its wings, each capable of handling 5,000 lb (2,300 kg). These hardpoints can accommodate pylons carrying detachable 600-gallon (2,270 L) external fuel tanks or launchers holding two air-to-air missiles. The two inboard hardpoints are designed to carry external fuel tanks, contributing to the aircraft’s range. The outboard hardpoints, on the other hand, are dedicated to stealthy pods housing the Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system and mission systems. The F-22 retains the flexibility to jettison external tanks and their pylon attachments when necessary, restoring its low observable characteristics and kinematic performance. This combination of internal and external weaponry options underscores the F-22’s adaptability to various mission profiles.
The F-22 Raptor family was originally envisioned with diverse configurations, each tailored to specific operational needs. The F-22A, a single-seat variant, emerged as the frontrunner, entering service in December 2005. In the early 2000s, a brief designation shift to F/A-22A reflected its multifaceted capabilities, encompassing air superiority, ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence. The F-22A lineage comprises 195 aircraft, including 8 test and 187 production units.
Anticipating the demand for a tandem-seat version, the F-22B was initially conceived. However, to streamline development costs, plans for the two-seat variant were abandoned in 1996. Test aircraft initially earmarked for the F-22B were seamlessly transitioned into the production of the single-seat F-22A.
A maritime adaptation of the F-22 was also envisioned to cater to the U.S. Navy’s needs. This naval variant was designed with variable-sweep wings and intended for carrier operations, aiming to succeed the venerable F-14 Tomcat. However, the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF) program, underpinning this initiative, faced cancellation in 1991, halting the development of the carrier-borne F-22 variant.
In the intricate tapestry of the F-22’s evolution, these planned variants and adaptations illustrate the dynamic decision-making processes that shape the trajectory of advanced military aircraft programs.
And that was the Glorious F-22 Raptor Fighter Jet: Specifications, Variants, Operation.