The Lockheed Martin/Boeing F22 Raptor made its debut 29 September 1990. This single-seat, twin-engine fifth-generation supermaneuverable fighter aircraft uses stealth technology and was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but has additional capabilities that include ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence roles. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics are the prime contractor and are responsible for the majority of the airframe, weapon systems and final assembly of the F-22. Program partner Boeing Defense, Space & Security provides the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems.The aircraft was variously designated F-22 and F/A-22 during the years prior to formally entering USAF service in December 2005 as the F-22A. Despite a protracted and costly development period, the United States Air Force considers the F-22 a critical component of U.S. tactical air power, and claims that the aircraft is unmatched by any known or projected fighter
Development of the F-22 began in 1981, when the U.S. Air Force sought an Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) as a new air superiority fighter to replace the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon. This was made more crucial by the emerging worldwide threats, including development and proliferation of Soviet MiG-29 and Su-27 “Flanker”-class fighter aircraft. It would take advantage of the new technologies in fighter design on the horizon including composite materials, lightweight alloys, advanced flight-control systems, more powerful propulsion systems and stealth technology. In 1985 the Air Force sent out technical requests for proposals to a number of aircraft manufacturing teams. The formal request for proposal (RFP) was issued in July 1986, and two contractor teams, Lockheed, Boeing and General Dynamics, along with Northrop and McDonnell Douglas, were selected on 31 October 1986 to undertake a 50-month demonstration phase, culminating in the flight test of the two teams’ prototypes, the YF-22 and the YF-23.
The YF-22 was designed to meet USAF requirements for survivability, supercruise, stealth, and ease of maintenance. Because Lockheed’s submission was selected as one of the winners, the company, through its Skunk Works division, assumed leadership of the program partners. It would be responsible for the forward cockpit and fuselage, as well as final assembly at Palmdale, California. Meanwhile, the wings and aft fuselage would be built by Boeing, with the center fuselage, weapons bays, tail and landing gear built by General Dynamics. Compared with its Northrop/McDonnell Douglas counterpart, the YF-22 has a more conventional design – its wings have larger control surfaces, such as full-span trailing edge, and, whereas the YF-23 had two tail surfaces, the YF-22 had four, which made it more maneuverable than its counterpart. Two examples of each prototype air vehicle (PAV) were built for the Demonstration-Validation phase: one with General Electric YF120 engines, the other with Pratt & Whitney YF119 engines.
The YF-22 was given the unofficial name “Lightning II” after Lockheed’s World War II-era fighter, the P-38 Lightning, which persisted until the mid-1990s when the USAF officially named the aircraft “Raptor”. The F-35 later received the Lightning II name in 2006. The first YF-22 (PAV-1, serial number 87-0700, N22YF), with the GE YF120, was rolled out on 29 August 1990 and first flew on 29 September 1990, taking off from Palmdale piloted by David L. Ferguson. During the 18-minute flight, PAV-1 reached a maximum speed of 250 knots (460 km/h; 290 mph) and a height of 12,500 feet (3,800 m), before landing at Edwards AFB. Following the flight, Ferguson said that the remainder of the YF-22 test program would be concentrated on “…the manoeuvrability of the aeroplane, both supersonic and subsonic”. The second YF-22 made its maiden flight on 30 October at the hands of Tom Morgenfeld.
Lockheed Martin claims that the Raptor’s combination of stealth, speed, agility, precision and situational awareness, combined with air-to-air and air-to-ground combat capabilities, makes it the best overall fighter in the world today. Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, said in 2004 that the “F-22 will be the most outstanding fighter plane ever built.” The high cost of the aircraft, a lack of clear air-to-air combat missions because of delays in the Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighter programs, a U.S. ban on Raptor exports, and the ongoing development of the planned cheaper and more versatile F-35 resulted in calls to end F-22 production. In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense proposed to cease placing new orders, subject to Congressional approval, for a final procurement tally of 187 operational aircraft.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 lacked funding for further F-22 production. The final F-22 rolled off the assembly line on 13 December 2011 during a ceremony at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Unfortunately during 2010, the F-22 was plagued by problems with its pilot oxygen systems which contributed to one crash and death of a pilot. In 2011 the fleet was grounded for four months before resuming flight operations, but reports of oxygen systems issues have continued. In July 2012, the Air Force announced that the hypoxia-like symptoms experienced were caused by a faulty valve in the pilots’ pressure vest; the valve was replaced and changes to the filtration system were also made.