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.
The United Kingdom accepted the first international Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft in a ceremony today with senior representatives of the U.K. Ministry of Defence and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Right Honourable Philip Hammond, U.K. Secretary of State for Defence, and Mr. Frank Kendall, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, represented their governments. “We are here to celebrate an important ‘first’ among so many milestones associated with the F-35 program,” said Bob Stevens, Lockheed Martin chairman and chief executive officer. “It’s fitting that our first delivery to an international partner is to the United Kingdom, because without sustained British innovation over many generations, we would not have an event to celebrate today.”
The U.K. was the first of eight international partners to join the F-35 program and plans to acquire the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Headquartered in the U.K., BAE Systems brings a rich heritage of capabilities to the F-35 program, including short takeoff and vertical landing experience, advanced lean manufacturing, flight testing and air systems sustainment, and is responsible for the F-35’s aft fuselage, fuel system, crew escape and life support systems. The U.K. will play a vital role in the F-35’s global production, follow-on development and sustainment over the next 40 years, bringing strong economic benefits to the country.
Norwegian Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide said the decision to move forward came after U.S. authorities confirmed their support to integrate a joint strike missile developed by the Norwegian conglomerate Kongsberg Gruppen ASA into the F-35 aircraft. The two aircraft authorized today are expected to be joined by a second pair in 2016, and will be based in the United States as part of a joint partner training centre. They are to be followed by up to 48 additional aircraft from 2017 that are to be based at Ørland Main Air Station in central Norway.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, fifth generation multirole fighters under development to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense missions with stealth capability. The F-35 has three main models; the F-35A is a conventional takeoff and landing variant, the F-35B is a short take off and vertical-landing variant, and the F-35C is a carrier-based variant.
The F-35 is descended from the X-35, the product of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. JSF development is being principally funded by the United States, with the United Kingdom and other partner governments providing additional funding. The partner nations are either NATO members or close U.S. allies. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin. The F-35 took its first flight on 15 December 2006.
The United States intends to buy a total of 2,443 aircraft to provide the bulk of its tactical airpower for the US Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy over the coming decades. The United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Canada, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Israel and Japan all will equip their air and/or naval forces with the F-35.
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.