Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We Fly the F-22 Raptor

Here’s what it’s like to fly the world’s most sophisticated fighter – sort of.

we flyI’m cruising at 40,000 feet above Nevada in America’s front-line fighter. Perched out on the pointy end, I can’t see what’s following behind, but I know it’s roughly 63 feet long and weighs as much as 64,000 pounds.
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we flyYes, it’s true, I’m flying the F-22 Raptor.
OK, so it was only the simulator. Several decades ago, the Air Force did allow me to fly the real T-38, F-4, F-15 and F-16 in conjunction with stories for this magazine, but they’re not quite ready to drop me into the cockpit of a real F-22 just yet. That would be a little difficult considering that there are no two-seat F-22s, and I have no resemblance to a 30-year-old Air Force captain. It’s probably reasonable to assume no journalist will ever pilot a real F-22.

My opportunity to “fly” the F-22 came at a press event staged in Torrance, California at Honeywell Aerospace, a major avionics systems contractor on the F-22 program. I was one of a handful of journalists allowed the privilege of sampling the F-22’s systems and capabilities.

By any measure, the F-22 Raptor is an amazing aircraft, very likely the most sophisticated and talented fighter ever to fly. At least, that’s what the U.S. government claims. If that sounds xenophobic (since we don’t really know what the Russians or Chinese might be cooking up), it’s an opinion shared by many in the defense industry. Even most international defense analysts agree that the F-22 is one of a kind.

The airplane features innovations in every parameter of military aviation; power, target acquisition, stealth, maneuverability, speed and performance. For power, the F-22 flies behind a pair of 35,000-pound-thrust, P&W F-119 engines that employ thrust vectoring. Nozzles at the rear of the engine deflect as much as 20 degrees up or down, allowing unprecedented maneuverability. The F-22 can execute the Herbst maneuver or Pugachev’s Cobra, both methods of rapidly reversing direction to fire at an enemy behind the Raptor.

The design also emphasizes supercruise, the ability to operate at extremely high speeds without using afterburner. Supercruise helps minimize the airplane’s heat signature and reduces fuel burn while still providing excellent performance. Some reports suggest the F-22 may be able to maintain as much as Mach 1.8 without using afterburners.


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