After many months on the ground, we are pleased to see the F-22 Raptor resuming normal flight operations. Some modifications were completed, especially to life support equipment, and particulary breathing systems. Completion of this task eliminates the need to restrict flight operations to remain within a 30-minute flying distance from an airfield suitable for landing. F-22 crews have also resumed their aerospace control alert mission in Alaska after the Automatic Back-up Oxygen System was installed in Elmendorf-based aircraft. Altitude restrictions have also been incrementally removed for F-22s that have received the ABOS modification. Altitude restrictions for training flights remain for non-ABOS equipped F-22 aircraft; however, those restrictions will be removed as each aircraft is modified. The return to normal flight operations hinged on completing eight near-term actions identified by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, successful fielding of the modified Combat Edge upper pressure garment valve, and fielding of the automatic backup oxygen system. All actions identified by the SAB were completed in December 2012. Fielding of the modified Combat Edge upper pressure garment valve and related pieces was completed in January. The Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor is a single-seat, twin-engine fifth-generation supermaneuverable fighter aircraft that uses stealth technology. It was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but has additional capabilities that include ground attack, electronic warfare, andsignals intelligence roles. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is the prime contractor and is responsible for the majority of the airframe, weapon systems and final assembly of the F-22. Program partner Boeing Defense, Space & Security provides the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems. The aircraft was variously designated F-22 and F/A-22 during the years prior to formally entering USAF service in December 2005 as the F-22A. Despite a protracted and costly development period, the United States Air Force considers the F-22 a critical component of U.S. tactical air power, and claims that the aircraft is unmatched by any known or projected fighter. Lockheed Martin claims that the Raptor’s combination of stealth, speed, agility, precision and situational awareness, combined with air-to-air and air-to-ground combat capabilities, makes it the best overall fighter in the world today. Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, said in 2004 that the “F-22 will be the most outstanding fighter plane ever built. The aircraft was grounded after serious faults in its oxygen and breathing systems which caused pilots to black out. These problems are fixed now, allowing the aircraft back in the air.
That’s a bold statement, but this is exactly the feeling of many fighter pilots as they take on the role and the seat of the jet fighter. Surely, it was said the same of the F-15, the JSF, but apparently they all conclude that the F-22 Raptor is definitely the best flying machine ever buit. See the testimony of Kevin Robbins. Col. Kevin Robbins still remembers the first time he saw the F-22 Raptor. He was driving near the flightline at Langley Air Force Base, Va., when he heard a load roar and saw a plane streak across his field of vision and start performing several aerial maneuvers. He stopped the car, got out and stared in amazement. An F-15 Eagle pilot himself, the colonel couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “This plane was doing things that shouldn’t be possible in a jet,” he said. “I just kept thinking that if anyone tried that in any other plane, he’d be dead.” The colonel wasn’t sure how the plane was able to do the things in the air that he was witnessing, but he couldn’t wait to find out. He applied for and was accepted to the F-22 program soon after. Today, he not only flies the jet, but also leads as commander of the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. Nearly a decade later, the F-22 still amazes him. The plane, a modern marvel of technology that’s a far cry from anything Robbins ever imagined flying, exceeds his expectations every time he gets in the cockpit. Even now, the colonel has a hard time believing he gets paid to fly the stealth jet. “This plane is a game-changer,” he said. “It’s a cut above anything else out there, and its capabilities are simply amazing.” Robbins felt this way right from the start. He still remembers his first Raptor flight, which he performed solo, because there isn’t a two-seat Raptor trainer. “On the ground, it feels like a muscle car,” he said. “It feels all clunky, but you can feel the power just waiting to be released. Then, once you punch it and head into the air, it’s like a Ferrari with pure speed.” To read on fly fighter jet.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is satisfied the Air Force has identified the cause of hypoxia-like symptoms 12 F-22 pilots suffered, and restrictions he placed on use of the fifth-generation fighter will be lifted gradually. Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz and other Air Force leaders told Panetta on July 20 that they are confident the root cause of the symptoms is the supply of oxygen to pilots and not the quality of oxygen, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today at a news conference. Reporters asked why these shortcomings weren’t picked up earlier. “I can’t go back in time and conduct technical archeology on this type of aircraft,” Little said. “I would say the Air Force has taken very prudent measures … over the past year and a half or so with respect to the F-22. And they have come to the conclusion as to what is causing these hypoxia events. “With any aircraft — be it the F-22 or the F-16, [or] with a helicopter or a ground vehicle — we can never take the risk to zero,” he said. “But we have an obligation to our troops and our airmen to make whatever equipment they are using as safe as possible, and that’s what we think we’re doing here.”
In May, Panetta directed the Air Force to limit all F-22 flights to remain near potential landing locations to enable quick recovery and landing should a pilot encounter oxygen deprivation. The secretary also directed the Air Force to expedite the installation of an automatic backup oxygen system in all of the planes, and he asked for monthly progress reports as the service continued the search for the root cause of the problem. These actions were in addition to steps the Air Force already was taking to determine the root causes of the hypoxia-like symptoms pilots have experienced. Panetta made this decision, in part, due to the reluctance of some pilots to fly the aircraft, Little said at the time. The Air Force has made two changes that appear to have solved the hypoxia problem. The first was to order pilots not to wear the pressure garment vest during high-altitude missions. Pilots use the vest to combat G-forces generated flying a high-performance aircraft. The vest inflates to stop blood from pooling, which would cause pilots to black out during high-speed turns. The Air Force found that a faulty valve “caused the vest to inflate and remain inflated under conditions where it was not designed to inflate, thereby causing breathing problems for some pilots,” Little said. “The garment has been suspended from flight since June.” This problem was not identified during initial F-22 testing.
Second, the Air Force removed a canister filter from the oxygen delivery system, and that has increased the volume of air flowing to pilots. The service also is looking at improving the oxygen delivery hose and its connections. Following the Air Force briefing last week, Panetta decided to lift restrictions on the aircraft gradually. Beginning today, F-22s may resume long-duration flights for deployments, aircraft deliveries and repositioning of aircraft. “Secretary Panetta has authorized deployment of a squadron of F-22 aircraft to Kadena Air Base, Japan,” Little said. “The aircraft will fly to Japan under altitude restrictions using the northern Pacific transit route.” Following completion of the flight to Japan, the Air Force likely will approve most long-duration flights, officials said. Still, initial long-duration flight routes will be designed to pass near airfields. The Air Force also has imposed an altitude restriction on the aircraft so pilots will not need to wear the pressure vest. Training sorties will remain near runways until completion of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board-recommended corrective actions. This is expected by the end of the summer.The Air Force will notify Panetta when fixes are finished with the pressure vest and related cockpit life support components. Pending successful completion of associated testing and NASA’s independent analysis, Panetta can decide to return the F-22 fleet status to normal operations.
The last F-22 Raptor to be built for the US Air Force took-off on its inaugural test flight earlier today with a company pilot at the helm, a Lockheed Martin executive says. “I was just watching the take-off of aircraft 4195, so it’s now made its first flight on its way to delivery,” says Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s F-22 programme manager. “We just had everyone outside the building watching the take-off of the final Raptor.”
Lockheed test pilot Bret Luedke– a veteran aviator who has flown almost every Raptor the company has ever built–is flying the aircraft. Babione says that company pilots usually fly two sorties to verify that the aircraft is functioning correctly. Super-cruise testing is usually conducted over Tennessee and Alabama, he says. The aircraft is capable of cruising at around Mach 1.8 without afterburners and has a top speed of around Mach 2.2. “It’s a real rigorous shakeout to make sure the aircraft is performing as designed,” Babione says.
Following the company test flights, government Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) pilots repeat those two sorties as part of the military’s acceptance procedures. The lead DCMA test pilot is Robert “Trigger” Wallace. Only after the aircraft completes those four test sorties will it receive its stealth coatings, Babione says. The aircraft also has to complete a mandatory government inspection. Lockheed will formally deliver aircraft 4195 to the USAF on 2 May, but the company will probably finish the work well ahead of time, Babione says.
The aircraft will be picked up from the factory by Lt Col Paul Moga and will then become the new “flagship” for the 525th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. Lockheed only has five F-22s left to deliver to the USAF. The air force recently took delivery of tail number 4190, which became the new flagship for the 90th Fighter Squadron-which is also part of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf.
The aircraft passed its mandatory government inspection with flying colours, but it also has to be inspected once it arrives at its home station. The 4190 landed at Elmendorf “code one”-or with no problems to report-but it has yet to complete inspections. Babione says that he’ll know in the next few days if the aircraft will get a “Platinum Star” rating for having “zero defects.” The next aircraft, tail number 4191-which is the last jet built under a 60-aircraft, multi-year purchase-is set to be formally handed over to the USAF on 15 March, Babione says.