TechF-22 Raptor: The seemingly outdated yet advanced aircraft of the American Air Force

F‑22 Raptor: The seemingly outdated yet advanced aircraft of the American Air Force

F-22 Raptor airplanes
F-22 Raptor airplanes
Images source: © USAF

5:11 PM EST, December 3, 2023

The F-22 Raptor stands as an embodiment of cutting-edge technology, optimized for air combat, unparalleled across the globe. However, it's crucial to remember that this aircraft was designed in the 1980s, the mass production began in the previous century and ended over ten years ago. So, what exactly is an F-22 Raptor, and what are its capabilities?

The F-22 Raptor is an American air superiority fighter, classified as a 5th-generation machine. It was designed by the Skunk Works department of Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin). Its development was a response to the capabilities that new Su-27 and MiG-29 designs granted to Soviet aviation.

Its prototype ascended for the first time in the 1990s. Seven years later, mass production commenced, ending in 2011. During this period, a total of 195 units were produced, including prototypes.

The F-22 was designed mainly for air combat. The aircraft can achieve and maintain supersonic speeds and is extremely maneuverable, even capable of achieving high angles of attack at low speeds.

Noteworthy is its sophisticated stealth features, relative to both radar visibility and detection using pyrometers.

The F-22 is a twin-engine, single-seat aircraft made extensively with titanium. It measures about 62 feet in length with a wingspan of roughly 44 feet, and its starting weight surpasses 79,366 pounds. The Raptor can accelerate to Mach 2.25, climb to an altitude of about 65,617 feet, and has a range of approximately 1,802 miles.

The airplane can function as a stealth machine with weapons stowed within closed internal fuselage bays. Alternatively, additional weapons under its wings increase its radar echo, although this reduces its stealth properties.

Is it a fighter or multi-role aircraft?

The original concept from the early 1980s planned for the future F-22 to replace several types of American combat aircraft in service.

However, they eventually focused the project on the characteristics essential for air combat. Consequently, a highly specialized machine was created initially. The product's role is highlighted by the evolving naming conventions.

The YF-22 prototype became the F-22, but for a brief period before its acceptance into service, the F/A-22 name, suggesting strike capabilities, was used. The F-22 name was reinstated, underscoring the aircraft's primary fighter role.

There were plans in the 1980s to convert it into a seaborne version, with designs being drawn up for the F-22 based NAFT (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) aircraft and F/A-22X, the successor of the Intruder A-6. Also, an FB-22 bomber based on an enlarged F-22 plane was envisaged. However, all these projects were discontinued.

The Raptor ended up serving as an air superiority fighter, though over time it gained limited capabilities in countering ground targets.

Even though the F-22 was designed in the 1980s, it's unmistakably an aviation icon, signifying the embodiment of modernity and superiority that technical development awards to American aviation. Currently, it is likely the most advanced aircraft of its kind worldwide, maintaining dominancy in air-to-air combat.

In 2012, when production of the F-22 officially ended, it already had an advantage over units whose production, like the Chinese J-20, was just beginning. This substantial lead is likely to continue until the 2030s, signifying a leap of about 30 years ahead of the world.

However, despite continuous upgrades and superior features, the F-22 can be seen as outdated. It's built on last century's technology, as evidenced by the use of Intel i960 processors – initially, at least, as newer commercial models were gradually introduced during production.

Therefore, even though there were plans to resume production after it concluded in December 2011, the high cost of restoring the production line and the need for significant upgrades discouraged reinstitution. Instead, efforts were directed toward developing an innovative design - the role of the F-22 is supposed to be replaced by an aircraft developed under the NGAD program.

Meanwhile, the United States has started gradually retiring the Raptors. The first 32 machines - the oldest, non-combat versions of the F-22A Block 30 - are to be retired by 2024.

Evolving through software

The F-22 uses a pioneering solution named Pave Pillar. This system eschews the use of individual aircraft systems as separate, independent modules. Instead, onboard computers process data from available sensors, relieving the pilot's burden of handling unnecessary information.

This continuous software development not only makes operating the F-22 easier, but also improves it. Hardware upgrades, such as replacing sensors or introducing hardware for encrypted data exchange, are also important. However, the persistent development of onboard software significantly enhances the aircraft's capabilities.

The currently deployed Block 3.2B version increases stealth capabilities, expands electronic warfare capabilities, and integrates new weapon patterns with the Raptor.

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