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Four F-22s prepare for take-off - image courtesy Lockheed Martin
The Raptor is still shaping up to be a fine aircraft platform

The United States Air Force (USAF) F-22A Raptor has only been in operational service for a little over a year now, and the advanced fighter aircraft is already shaping up to be quite a formidable weapon in the skies. The F-22 can supercruise (achieve supersonic speeds without afterburner) at Mach 1.58 and has a top speed of Mach 2+ thanks to its twin Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines.

Over the past year, F-22s have partaken in a number of simulated "wargames" to display the capabilities of the aircraft. In one two-week excursion in Alaska, designated Northern Edge, the "Blue Air" team which was led by F-22s simply obliterated its "Red Air" threat.

The Red Air threat was composed of a number of previous generation Air Force and Navy aircraft including the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet. During the exercise, in which more than 40 aircraft littered the skies, the Blue Team achieved a remarkable 241-to-2 kill ratio. It should be noted that the 2 aircraft lost on the Blue Team were F-15C aircraft and not the F-22s.

"They [the Red Air adversaries] couldn’t see us," Tolliver said. "And that’s what makes the F-22 special. I’m out there and I have weapons like an F-15C or an F-16, but ... I’m basically invisible to the other guy’s radar," said Toliver.

The F-22's also scored a 97% mission effective rate during Northern Edge, flying 102 out of 105 assigned sorties. No other new aircraft to enter service into the USAF has been able to achieve such high readiness levels.

Over the past year, the F-22 has had many other success stories. The aircraft has successfully handled alternating air-to-air and air-to-ground operations and have provided additional sensor coverage for trailing friendly aircraft. F-22s have also released JDAMs from an altitude of 50,000 feet while traveling at Mach 1.5 and successfully fired AIM-120C-5 and AIM-9M missiles at live drone aircraft.

Despite all of the successes, there is still room for improvement in the F-22 program. The aircraft's mechanical readiness is now pegged at 70 to 75%, which is slightly lower than the USAF's optimal 75 to 78% rating. Also, pilots are asking for dual-mode satellite/laser guided bombs for the aircraft as well as a helmet-mounted firing system for weapons. Other improvements already in queue include an upgraded radar system and enhanced capabilities in the event of an electronic attack.



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RE: Is it just me???
By stromgald on 2/5/2007 12:48:39 AM , Rating: 2
You should check out the competition design from NorthropGrumman for the ATF program (which spawned the F-22). Do a search for the YF-23 to find it. It was much sleeker and revolutionay IMO. Some of the reasons the YF-23 wasn't chosen were the slightly higher cost and the changes that would have been required of current missiles and those associated costs.


RE: Is it just me???
By gorobei on 2/5/2007 6:38:22 AM , Rating: 2
yes, the YF-23 Blackwidow was ten times better looking and performed slightly better in the stealth tests. But there were a couple of "official" reasons it wasn't picked.

first, no thrust vectoring because the original design requirements from the USAF didn't specify it. NorthropGrumman went for a pure steath approach on the theory that it wouldn't need to dogfight and wouldn't need the turning power of thrustvectoring nozzles. Second, the YF23 left visible wingtip boundry layer trails at high turn rates which deminished its stealthiness during dogfighting. (I would think these would have been trivial issues and easily fixed.)
A more important reason was that at the time, the USAF had just found out that Northrop's missile division had sold them thousands of defective missile guidance and fusing systems, effectively bilking them out of billions of dollars. They were unlikely to reward Northrop with an even bigger contract.

also, the asraam missiles which both planes were supposed to use were smaller than the AIM7 sparrows currently in use. incompatibility with the older sparrow is a red herring, since the AIM7 still requires the launch platform to radar illuminate the target during the early part of its flight.(a stealth fighter shooting out big beams of radar illumination for its missiles is anathema to steath)


RE: Is it just me???
By yacoub on 2/5/2007 8:20:03 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, over the years, Lockheed designs have had much more sex appeal than Northrop's.


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