Updated: 6/20/2017; Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Reagan-Era ATF Program
Origins of the F-22 lay in the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) initiative put forth by the USAF in an effort to shore up an aging frontline of Cold War-era fighter platforms - particularly the venerable F-15 Eagle series. The F-15 Eagle itself was born in the thick of the Cold War years and was accepted into service in 1976. She was as a large fighter platform meant for true air superiority over Soviet-sponsored fighters of the time, offering a potent payload along with excellent top-flight speed and proved an outright success within time - one of the classic American fighters of all time. The airframe was eventually adapted into a dual-role air-superiority / ground strike version in the F-15E "Strike Eagle" offering and was even more recently converted to a "semi-stealth" end-product through the proposed F-15SE "Silent Eagle" initiative. By the time of the ATF program, the F-15 was really only just beginning to gain a foothold in the USAF inventory. However, technological progression the world over would eventually catch up to the fabled F-15 lineage and its large interceptor concept so, thusly, a new thoroughbred was on order. The ATF program began in 1981 and the USAF ultimately envisioned some 750 ATF aircraft to fill its next-generation stable. Several developmental platforms serving throughout the latter part of the 1970s and into the 1980s would go on to deliver the valuable data that would influence the future of American flight.
The Revised USAF Requirement
By June of 1981, formal specifications had been ironed out for the successor to the F-15. The USAF required a new-generation aircraft capable of exceeding the speed of sound without the need for thirsty afterburning technology while also featuring an operational range of approximately 800 miles. The new fighter platform would also have to exhibit unparalleled performance (in excess of Mach 1.5) for the air-to-air role through superior use of burgeoning technologies that included vectoring thrust and stealth, the latter through various materials and skilful use of design to make for a relatively invisible enemy. In July of 1986, the Demonstration and Validation Phase began and ultimately led to a formal "request for proposal" being sent out with Lockheed and Northrop headlining the response.
The YF-22 Versus the YF-23
The storied aviation firms of Lockheed and Northrop went head-to-head in the ensuing ATF competition. The Lockheed submission was to be designated as the "YF-22" whilst the Northrop submission became the "YF-23". Along with the new airframe designs, each aircraft was to also trial a pair of new powerplants in each afforded prototype bringing both General Electric and Pratt & Whitney into the fold. Like the airframe counterparts, the engines too were labeled in developmental form as the "YF119" (Pratt & Whitney) and "YF120" (General Electric). The USAF requested that each concern produce two prototypes mounting examples of each engine for review. The program would be a huge stage for all those involved and the potentially lucrative defense contract to follow would affect smaller contributors in multiple states across the country.
Such a stage required more resources than those military-minded aircraft developments in years past and now saw former competitors team up to promote a viable end-product. Lockheed joined forces with Boeing and General Dynamics while Northrop stood with McDonnell Douglas. The program was extended by the period of six months in 1987 for a redesign of the YF-22 to fall under the requisite weight limitations. The four prototypes were completed and made ready for evaluations beginning in 1990. The Northrop / McDonnell Douglas development earned its first flight on August 27th, 1990. The Lockheed prototype - N22YF - was unveiled at the Lockheed Palmdale plant in California on August 29th and took to the air for the first time on September 29th, 1990. For the Lockheed example, Boeing was responsible for the wings and rear fuselage assemblies while Lockheed herself concentrated on the cockpit and forward nose assembly and General Dynamics handled the central fuselage and tail. A second prototype, the N22XF, this fielded with the other engine under consideration and was flown on October 30th, 1990. Northrop eventually tied their YF-23 to the "Black Widow II" nickname in homage to their twin-engine, piston-powered P-61 "Black Widow" nightfighter of World War 2 fame. Similarly, the Lockheed team bestowed the nickname of "Lightning II" to their YF-22 in tribute to their war-winning, twin-engine, twin-boom fighter, the P-38 "Lightning" - the "Fork-Tailed Devil".
Both aircraft exhibited quite different approaches to their designs. The YF-22 was of sharp angles with a rear-set main wing assembly and outward canted vertical tail fins - looking very different from the initial published artist's impression. The cockpit sat behind a pointed nose cone which was to house the final radar array. The intakes were inward canted at their bottom edges and the overall design was meant to counter the signature presence of the airframe against tracking enemy radar installations. As such, the body was coated in radar-absorbing materials and various angled planes. The YF-22 undoubtedly borrowed much of the lessons learned in the development of the F-117 "Nighthawk" stealth fighter achieved decades prior.
On the other hand, the YF-23 followed a more unconventional overall shape with its large-area wings promoting a diamond-type shape when viewing the aircraft from the overhead profile. The design was relatively squat in her forward profile and finely contoured throughout with smooth, sloping faces. There were no horizontal tail fins as in the YF-22 design but instead extremely outward canted vertical tail planes doubling as both rudders and elevators. Like the YF-22 for Lockheed, the YF-23 for Northrop no doubt pulled from experience garnered in their pursuit of the B-2 "Spirit" stealth bomber design.
A period of intense evaluations (and most likely heavy political lobbying in the background) followed in what turned out to be a historic victory for the Lockheed concern. Despite the more powerful YF-23 showing by Northrop, the YF-22 was selected as the competition's winner due to its inherent agility in the fighter role. The USAF also liked what it saw in the reliable and overly promising Pratt & Whitney YF119 engines when coupled to the YF-22 prototype, earning Pratt & Whitney the nod to win the equally-lucrative engine contract. Formal long-term development on the winning YF-22 design began in April of 1991.
Too Powerful for its Own Good?
From the outset, the F-22 series was designed to be the most technologically advanced airborne warfighter anywhere in the world. The F-22 was conceived to handle any current enemy threats in the skies as well as counter any "on-the-horizon" threats thought to be in development from competing nations. As such, her advances gave birth to the new classification of "Fifth Generation" fighter, placing her leaps ahead of the global competition and, in some ways, making all previous generation fighters something of obsolete types. However, many perceive the sheer revolutionary standards brought about by the F-22 as an end-product that was built for a threat that did not exist - in essence, an expensive "overkill" endeavor that was not needed for the time. Regardless, there was no arguing that the F-22 was revolutionary from the start - bringing with it an all-new age of military-minded aviation, perhaps the greatest advancement since the jet engine itself.
To demonstrate the F-22s potency and potential, a controlled exercise was published in which a pair of Raptors were pitted against four F-15 Eagles. By the end of the test, all four of the Eagles had been targeted and "killed" with no loss to the pair of F-22s. After the exercise, the Eagle pilots were noted as saying that the F-22 had not even shown up on their radars during the entire foray, never presenting itself as a target to the awaiting flight of four Eagles - this, in some ways a promising testament to the next-generation capabilities of such stealth-based aircraft on the horizon.
Speed Bumps Along the Road
Despite its early key victory, the developmental period for the F-22 (YF-22 signified the prototype evaluation models) program was years-long. A YF-22 prototype was lost to accident in April of 1992 during a landing approach at Edwards AFB - this blamed on the system software with the pilot surviving. The initial production-quality F-22s were formally designated as the "F-22A" and, in 1993, a dual-role aspect for the aircraft was officially formulated due to the aircraft's promising nature. Production-quality mounts were noticeably different from developmental models in their nose assemblies and their intake openings were also slightly revised.
An early evaluation batch (known as EMDs = Engineering and Manufacturing Development) of nine - down from the initially proposed eleven - aircraft were delivered out of the Lockheed Martin Marietta, Georgia facility in April of 1997. Software and mechanical delays soon pushed the series first flight until September 7th of 1997 though critical and extensive testing of all internal systems and subsystems ensued to help iron out issues. This was followed by a second F-22 going airborne on June 29th, 1998. In August of 2001, to which some eight total airworthy F-22s existed, the United States Department of Defense (US DoD) ordered a full low-rate production batch of some 295 aircraft (down from the envisioned 650, 438 and then 339 F-22s) with the first deliveries to begin in 2002 (later pushed back to 2003). In 2004, the F-22 completed its Operational Test and Evaluation Center program with the USAF which led directly to full rate production being achieved in 2005. In December of 2004, a production-quality F-22A was lost to accident at Nellis AFB, this blamed on a power failure. The first operational F-22 squadron was also formed in 2005 with the F-22A officially introduced on December 15th of that year (the designation of "F/A-22" existed for only a short time in the aircraft's brief history before being designated as the "F-22", the F/A designation attributed to its added "attack" role during construction of the first two production-quality F-22As).
F-22 Production and Operation
As of late 2010, there have been 168 of the 187 contracted F-22As delivered to the USAF at a cost of $143 million to $150 million USD for a single example with 137 of these understood as operational (May 2011). As of this writing, the USAF remains the exclusive operator of the expensive, technology-laden machine with much of her technology too sensitive for public consumption. The F-22 currently serves with the 325th Fighter Wing of Air Education and Training Command out of Tyndall AFB, the 1st, 44th, 49th, 53rd and 57th Wings of Air Combat Command, the 412th Test Wing of Air Force Material Command, the 3rd, 15th and 447th groups of the Pacific Air Forces and the 192nd and 154th Wings of the Air National Guard.
The F-22 Key to Success
There are multiple factors that play a key role to the expected success of the F-22 line. Of course there are the low-observable stealth qualities that minimize or defeat its radar signature to both ground-based and aerial search and tracking radars. Onboard systems also provide for less pilot fatigue on long-range missions and inherently broader mission scopes to boot. The F-22 makes use of "supercruise" technology which allows the aircraft to reach supersonic flight without use of afterburner - the pumping of raw fuel into the engine exhaust to create a temporary increase in power and, thusly, an increase to speed. Afterburning promotes a larger radar signature while at the same time increasing fuel consumption and limiting operational ranges. Additionally, the low-bypass engines of the F-22 are shrouded in positional, "two-dimensional" convergent / divergent jet exhaust nozzles that promote unprecedented agility in a fighter of this class, giving her an inherent advantage in close-in aerial combat. Primary weapons are all ingeniously housed within internal compartments to further minimize angles to the outside of the machine. Beyond the obvious angular design edges of the F-22 airframe, there are more subtle serrated panel edges that make up her internal weapons bay doors and landing gear doors. Even the F-22s canopy glass lacks conventional framing to help keep the surfaces of the aircraft consistent and not draw attention from spying radar. Construction of the F-22 is mainly titanium and composite alloys in nature and all of these collective assets allow the F-22 complete superiority in both day and night conditions.
The F-22 Cockpit and Flight Systems
Internally, the cockpit of the F-22 is a first-rate, all-glass digital affair dominated by four large color customizable multi-function liquid crystal displays. These are fitted as three across a top row and a fourth mounted under center between the pilot's knees. Pertinent mission information and onboard systems are displayed across these color screens and work in conjunction with a wide-area HUD (Heads-Up Display) that allows the pilot to keep his eyes on the action ahead. There is no center flight stick as in previous fighter aircraft but instead a left-hand throttle column and a right-hand control stick, each featuring multi-functional switches for HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) functionality, again, keeping the pilot's eyes and attention on the mission at hand. The pilot is further assisted by a three-tier redundant digital fly-by-wire control system that makes such an unorthodox airframe as the F-22 design controllable and a pleasure to fly. The highly-integrated cockpit system allows for a high level of pilot situational awareness that makes for a truly potent mount, combining the workload of two airmen into one. The F-22 is fitted with the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-77 active element, electronically-scanned array radar system and an integrated Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) of near-290 mile range. The radar can acquire the most potent threat to the aircraft and engage within 135 miles providing for a "first-shot, first-kill" approach - this without the enemy not even spotted the F-22. In turn, the radar system offers up a low passive detection signature true to the F-22s stealthy nature. Infrared homing missile threats are countered by the use of the Chemring Group MJU-39/40 flare countermeasures suite. Interestingly, the early avionics system of the YF-22 was, in fact, tested within the cockpit of a modified Boeing 757 passenger jet liner.
The F119 Powerplant
Power for the F-22 is derived from the pairing of two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 thrust vectoring turbofan engines delivering up to 35,000lbs of full thrust, the most of any other fighter engine currently in use anywhere. Interestingly, when running on normal thrust conditions, the F-22 does not leave a noticeable smoke trail with its double-engine arrangement. The engines further provide the F-22 with a top speed of over 1,500 miles per hour (Mach 2.25) at altitude and, when on supercruise, the F-22 can hit speeds of 1,200 miles per hour (Mach 1.8). Operation range is reportedly at 2,000 miles with a combat radius of 470 miles - more so with external fuel stores in place. The F-22 can hit a service ceiling of 65,000 feet and up to 9G of gravitational force. Internal fuel volume is stored across eight tanks that are filled with nitrogen to reduce the danger present from combustible fuel fumes.
Basic Standard Armament
Standard armament for the F-22 is the fitting of a single 20mm General Electric M61A2 Vulcan six-barreled internal cannon. The cannon is fitted into the starboard wingroot and rotates via the Gatling principle and some 480 rounds of 20mm ammunition is afforded the system. Despite the advent of homing and guided missile technology, the internal cannon has proven its worth on the digital battlefield - made painfully clear in America's involvement during the air war over Vietnam. The 20mm cannon is useful in close-in fighting against other aerial targets.
To counter long-range, air-to-air threats, the F-22 is cleared for the use of the USAF-standard AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range and AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range missiles within her internal weapons bays. For the stealth combat air-to-air role, the F-22 can be outfitted with 2 x AIM-9 and 6 x AIM-120 missiles, the Sidewinders installed in the side weapons bays and the AMRAAMS along the fuselage underside weapons bays. Each missile is launched clear from its respective compartment before achieving full use of its rocket motor booster. In addition to its stealth-minded loadout, the F-22 can carry external ordnance at the expense of a greater radar signature. 4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles can be fitted as pairs across two outboard underwing hardpoints for a grand total of twelve missiles (eight internally and four externally). 2 x 600 US gallon Drop tanks for increased operational ranges can be fitted on inboard underwing hardpoints as well - this to serve the F-22 well in long loitering times or lengthy interception sorties.
Despite its origins as an air dominance fighter, the F-22 (as the F-15 before it) has evolved into a dual-role mount capable of precision strike sorties through the utilization of air-to-surface weaponry. A standard outfit is 2 x AIM-9 and 2 x AIM-120 air-to-air missiles for self-defense along with 2 x 1,000lb JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) laser-guided bombs for ground strikes. An alternative loadout sees the F-22 sport the requisite 2 x AIM-9 and 2 x AIM-120 air-to-air defensive missile layout and fits 8 x 250lb GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs), all of these ordnance to be held internally. It is projected that the air-to-surface capability for the F-22 will only increase within time and lead to the addition of much improved air-to-ground functionality and more integrated solutions.
New Technology at a Fatal Price
The heavy technological nature of the new F-22 has expectedly led to some issues revolving the operational reliability of the aircraft. As recently as November of 2010, an F-22 pilot was killed when his oxygen system failed in its role, most likely leading to unconsciousness in-flight on the part of the pilot. This, and other oxygen-related issues, have since led to the grounding of the entire F-22 fleet in May of 2011 while an investigation was on-going into the cause. Such issues have provided the F-22 family line with the highest accident rate of any operating USAF fighter-type mount. Similarly, the then-new-fangled Hawker Siddeley / BAe / McDonnell Douglas AV-8 "Harrier" jump jet aircraft series of British origin suffered through growing pains of its own, owing to new technology and flight characteristics that had to be overcome. Eventually, the Harrier II became a legend in its own right after years of operational service led to uncover and, ultimately , resolve lingering issues.
Proposed Raptor Variants
A proposed navalized swing-wing derivative of the F-22 Raptor was considered for the United States Navy through the "Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter" (NATF) program but was formally dropped from contention in 1993. Likewise, a tail-less, two-seat strike stealth bomber version of the Raptor fighter, to be known as the "FB-22 Strike Raptor", was formally cancelled in 2006 leaving the F-22A as the only member of the existing F-22 Raptor lineage.
First Combat Actions
The Lockheed F-22 Raptor undertook its first combat missions on September 23rd, 2014 when it engaged ISIS ground targets in Syria.
Service Year: 2005
Type: Air Dominance Fighter
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Lockheed Martin Corporation / The Boeing Company - USA
Production Total: 195