September 7 2022 marks 25 years since the first flight of America’s first fifth-generation fighter the F-22A Raptor.
After six years of development, the Raptor, which had its maiden flight in Marietta, Georgia, emerged as the first of the 5th Generation Fighter.
F-22 was designed as a twin-engine heavyweight platform to succeed the F-15 Eagle and F-4D/E Phantom as the Western world’s prime air superiority fighter.
Developed under the Advanced Tactical Fighter Program which began work in the late 1970s, the F-22 design proposed by Lockheed Martin was chosen over the rival F-23 developed by Northrop Grumman, and was considered the more conservative of the two deviating less radically from the F-15.
The end of the Cold War in 1989, however, and the subsequent collapse of Soviet fifth-generation fighter programs after the state’s disintegration in the 1990s meant Advanced Tactical Fighter was not expected to have a near-peer competitor, which was considered a significant factor why the more ambitious but likely much riskier and more costly Northrop proposal was not selected.
The F-22 program achieved some important milestones, including being the first stealth fighter built for air-to-air combat, providing a technological stepping stone for the development of the F-35, and being the only Western fighter to integrate thrust-vectoring engines for maneuverability.
The program nevertheless appears very far from successful a quarter century on particularly compared to its Cold War era predecessors and to many of its overseas competitors, which has become increasingly apparent as plans to retire the aircraft begin to materialize which confirms what was long speculated when orders to cut production were first given. The fighter is expected to see only a fraction of the time in service that the F-15 will, with the Air Force confirming in 2021 plans to retire the class completely in the 2030s.
The F-22 Raptor is a combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, representing an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. The Raptor performs both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions allowing full realization of operational concepts vital to the 21st century Air Force.
The F-22, a critical component of the Global Strike Task Force, is designed to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances, and defeat threats attempting to deny access to our nation’s Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft.
Lockheed Martin says the Raptor continues to provide our nation and allies air superiority and is a pathfinder to the next generation of air dominance.