The F-22 was developed by a consortium of Lockheed, Boeing and General Dynamics to meet USAF requirements, published in a September 1985 RFP describing an advanced tactical fighter design. In October 1986, two prototypes were ordered from the Lockheed-led group: one powered by two General Electric YFl2O-GE-100 variable-cycle turbofan engines and the other by two Pratt & Whitney YF119-PW-100 turbofan engines. Both types of engines provided sufficient dry thrust to support a cruising speed of around Mach 1.4 or 1.5. The first prototype, designated YF-22, flew on September 29, 1990 with YF120 engines, the second prototype followed on October 30, 1990 with YFl19 engines.

The YF-22 had a trapezoidal wing, two oblique drifts and articulated stabilizers its engines, equipped with nozzles of two-dimensional orientation, offered a thrust ranging between 14 515 and 15 876 kg. The armament consisted of an integrated M-6 1 20 mm rotary cannon, four AIM-120 medium-range air-to-air missiles located on the air intake ducts, and two AIM-9 short-range air-to-air missiles.

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

The project wins

On April 23, 1991, the Lockheed F119-powered ATF was declared the winner, after 91 hours of flight time in seventy-four test sorties. Under the Full Scale Development (FSD) program, seven F-22As and two F-22B two-seaters (plus two ground test vehicles) were to be built with a first flight in 1996. Compared to the prototype, these aircraft were to have larger wings and stabilizers, but shorter tail fins. The air inlets were to be moved back and the nose reprofiled. The planned wingspan was 13.57 m, and the length 19.06 m. The USAF gave the green light for series production of the F-22A air supremacy fighter, scheduled for 1996, with a total planned production of 442 units.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is a stealth fighter developed by the United States in the late 1980s to replace the US Air Force’s F-15. Initially designed for aerial combat, it is also capable of military ground support, electronic attack and signals intelligence missions. Lockheed Martin is responsible for most of the aircraft, including the weapons system, as well as final assembly. Boeing’s defense division provided the wings and rear fuselage and integrated the avionics.

The aircraft was randomly referred to as the F-22 and F/A-22 in the years leading up to its entry into service with the USAF in December 2005, before the F-22A name was officially adopted; however, it is more often referred to by its nickname, the F-22 Raptor. The U.S. considers the F-22 to be a strategic element in maintaining the air power of the U.S. Air Force, claiming that it is unmatched by any other fighter aircraft in existence or under development; Lockheed Martin claims that its stealth, speed, agility and tactical precision, combined with its air-to-air and air-to-ground attack capabilities, make it the best fighter aircraft designed to date. Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Australian Defence Force, said in 2004 that the “F-22 will be the most remarkable fighter aircraft ever built.

Its high development cost, its relative lack of military interest due to the state of the Russian and Chinese air fleets, its export ban by the United States and the design of the F-35 – a cheaper and more versatile fighter – will quickly lead to calls to end its production. In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense proposed, with Congressional approval, to end its orders, yet the number of F-22s purchased was down to 187, while the Senate and House passed a budget bill in July 2009 ending all funding for its production.

History of the F-22

In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration began work on the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program to replace the F-15 and F-16. An initial consultation with various manufacturers took place in June 1981, and the specifications of the new aircraft were set at the end of 1982: supercruise capability (supersonic speed without the use of afterburner), combat radius of action greater than 1,000 km, landings and takeoffs over 600 meters, and takeoff weight for air-to-air missions of less than 27 tons. After taking into account the latest advances in stealth technology, the project was submitted to the manufacturers in September 1983, while at the same time Pratt & Whitney and General Electric were tasked with proposing an engine for this new aircraft.

By the end of 1984, the specifications had become more precise: the supercruise speed was to reach Mach 1.5, while the take-off weight was to be reduced to 22 tonnes. The unit cost was set at 40 million US dollars (in 1985). The final invitation to tender was issued in September 1985 for a forecast of 750 units. Seven different manufacturers responded and, in October 1986, the Pentagon announced that two projects had been selected: that of Lockheed (which had in the meantime joined forces with General Dynamics and Boeing) and that of Northrop (in the meantime associated with McDonnell Douglas).

Two prototypes of each proposal were ordered, both with trapezoidal wings, Lockheed’s being designated YF-22 and Northrop’s YF-23. One prototype was to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney F119 engine and the other by the General Electric F120. The YF-22 design underwent several modifications during its final design, including a change in the shape of the wings and the type of weapons bays, while the USAF abandoned the use of thrust reversers to save weight.

The first prototype of the YF-22 made its maiden flight on September 29, 1990. It was the aircraft equipped with General Electric F120 engines. The second prototype, with Pratt & Whitney F119 engines, made its first flight on October 30, 1990. Both aircraft were tested in supercruise a month later, reaching Mach 1.92 and Mach 2.3 respectively. With the afterburner, both exceeded Mach 2 at 15,000 meters without problems. The first firing of a missile took place at the end of November 1990.

In April 1991, the USAF announced that the YF-22 had won the competition and that the engine selected was the Pratt & Whitney F119. Eleven pre-production aircraft were ordered, including two two-seaters. While the first prototype was used for ground tests and sent to the USAF museum, the second was destroyed in an accident in April 1992. The first pre-production aircraft made its maiden flight on September 7, 1997, with a number of structural modifications compared to the YF-22 (shorter fuselage, increased wingspan, etc.).

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

F-22 component production breakdown

However, the program was very late (about 5 years in total) and costs were largely exceeded (unit price more than doubled). As a result, the two-seat F-22B version was abandoned and the number of aircraft ordered was gradually reduced: from the 648 aircraft planned in 1991 (when the winner of the contract was named), it was reduced to 339 in 1997 (when the first pre-production aircraft was flown) and then to only 295 in 2001. In the meantime, at the insistence of Congress, the Raptor was re-designated F/A-22 for some time and should eventually be capable of performing air-to-ground missions.

The first USAF unit to receive the F-22 was the 43rd Fighter Squadron, based at Tyndall AFB in Florida. Intended for pilot conversion to the new aircraft, it received 25 Raptors between October 2003 and May 2005. The first operational unit (27th Figther Squadron) began receiving its F-22s in May 2005 and was declared operational by the end of that year.

As of July 31, 2007, the number of F-22s ordered was only 183 production aircraft, 105 had already been assembled at the Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta and 99 delivered to the USAF. Its critics also accuse it of not being adapted to the asymmetric conflicts in which the United States is engaged (the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq) and which require aircraft adapted to air support and not the pure air superiority aircraft typical of the Cold War. For its part, the U.S. Air Force is defending its initial order for 381 F-22s, citing the threat posed by China and the acquisition of modern fighters, particularly Russian ones, by many countries.

For fiscal year 2008, the USAF plans to purchase 20 aircraft. On April 6, 2009, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended that production be stopped once 187 aircraft have been delivered. This would put an end to the production of this aircraft; indeed, the cost of restarting it is estimated at nearly 19 billion dollars by the US Air Force, for an inevitably limited production, the aircraft being forbidden for export by the Pentagon despite the interest of countries such as Japan, Israel or Australia.

The USAF and the manufacturer are pressing for an increase in the total number of aircraft on the line, the former arguing that it will not have enough aircraft to replace the F-15A/B/C interceptors that will be withdrawn from service, and the latter pointing to the 75,000 jobs that are linked to this program, as well as the substantial increase in unit price to compensate for the cessation of production.

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

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