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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In addition, like the F-117 and the B2, the F-22 features a stealth system that reduces its radar cross section (RCS) to about the size of a ½ inch diameter ball bearing, making the airplane almost impossible to detect using conventional radars. Radar absorbing materials help soak up or deflect any probing radar signals. Though the Raptor may be fitted with external weapons on a series of wing hard points, most of the Raptor’s weapons are normally stored in enclosed bays that open just long enough to deploy the selected armament. (Opening the bays makes the airplane more visible to radar.)

(Early tests with the F-117 suggested stealth was indeed effective. At Edwards AFB in California, one of the air force’s most sophisticated radars was aimed at an F-117 parked two miles away at the end of a runway. The radar received no return until a bird landed on the airplane’s tail.)

For its part, the Raptor mounts a Beyond Visual Range, APG-77 radar system that can detect targets out to 100 miles while limiting the Raptor’s own radar emissions. By transmitting radar pulses in varying frequencies and for short intervals, the system makes it more difficult for opposing radars to lock on. This means the F-22 can fight an enemy that’s out of sight and out of his radar detection capability. A flight of enemy aircraft will simply be flying along, and suddenly one of them will blow up.

In an age of air-to-air missiles that travel at 2300 knots or more, pure speed isn’t as important as it used to be, but the Raptor’s max speed is published as Mach 2.25. Max velocity in supercruise mode (without afterburner) is listed as Mach 1.82.

In these tough economic times, President Obama’s current defense secretary, Robert Gates, has proposed capping procurement of F-22s at the current order limit of 187 airplanes, since the Raptor costs in excess of $138 million per airplane. Gates feels the better investment is the newer Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a single-engine, STOVL (Short Takeoff Vertical LandinG) fighter with a price half that of the F-22. The F-35 could be operated from aircraft carriers and is in great demand by at least a dozen of our allies.

Like the F-15 Eagle before it, the Raptor is a dedicated fighter, designed from the outset to defeat any threat. Unlike the F-35 Lightning II, the F-22 will never be sold outside the USA, an American fighter strictly for America.


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