The US Air Force (USAF) has finished upgrading the last of the 247 F-22 Raptor stealth fighters. The modifications were part of the F-22 Structural Repair Program and aimed at giving a new lease of life to the fifth-generation fighter fleet.
The work was carried out in collaboration with aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing at the Hill Air Force base in Utah. The upgrades included structural repairs aimed at extending the service life of the F-22 Raptor fleet, along with fixing each fighter’s anti-radar stealth coating.
Along with that, the jets also received inspections and refurbishment of the flight control system.
The US aerospace firms have combined decades of hard-earned technical intelligence and unorthodox aerodynamic designs to produce futuristic fighter jets. Globally, there are few fighters better than the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
While the US has fielded superior aircraft like the BR-71 Blackbird, the Nighthawk, the F-16 Falcons, the F-15 Eagles, and F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter, none of them are quite like the F-22 Raptor, which is known to be the stealthiest fighter jet on the planet.
The fighter is the product of a joint effort by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. While the former built the airframe and weapons systems, Boeing provided the fighter with wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems.
The single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, fifth-generation, stealth, multi-role F-22 Raptor fighter makes the use of observable technologies, modern avionics, and efficient engines to offer the US Air Force an unmatched air superiority.
It is one of the reasons why the Pentagon has been highly protective of it; so much so that it has a law in place which bars the fighter to be exported to any foreign country.
The F-22s have been equipped with the advanced variants of the AIM-9X air-to-air missile and the AIM 120-D, two weapons that have been under testing and development for several years now.
The triple-threat AIM-9X Sidewinder missile can serve multiple roles including air-to-air engagements, surface-attack, and surface-launch missions without modifications.
According to the US Air Force, the structural modifications made to the fighters by the 574th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex will increase the serviceability of the Raptors by an estimated 8,000 hours.
The assigned tasks for enhancing the abilities of the fighter jets included aircraft modernization, coating restoration, and corrosion repair.
The US Air Force said that the upgrading process involved taking all the fighters through “six unique maintenance machines for structural repair, modification, coatings restoration, and aircraft damage repair”.
Director of the 574th AMXS, Misty Stone, said in a statement, “This is a great milestone for the program. Since Hill Air Force Base gained the F-22 workload in 2006, the 574th AMXS team of 400 employees has remained focused and dedicated to expanding the combat capabilities of the F-22 weapon system.”
The Raptors were originally designed by the US Air Force to have an 8,000-hour lifespan. However, the latest upgrades will effectively double their lifespan.
According to officials, more than 3.8 million hours were spent on finishing the technical orders for repair, with 1.5 million hours spent on coating restoration and 2.3 million hours dedicated to modifications and corrosion repair.
Moreover, around five damaged F-22 Raptor fighters were completely overhauled. Following the completion of the mission, the squadron is planning to modify the aircraft’s engine inlets and overhaul flight controls under a process called the reversion program.
“We have already ramped up our new reversion workload producing nine aircraft totaling nearly 200,000 hours to date,” said Paul Woolever, Chief of the 574th Production/Flight Test section.
“In conjunction with this workload, we are currently posturing ourselves to accomplish avionics upgrades that will greatly improve the already amazing capabilities of the F-22.”