USAF F-22 Raptor Returns To Service After Damaged Beyond-flyable Condition in Belly Landing

USAF F-22 Raptor Returns To Service After Damaged Beyond-flyable Condition in Belly Landing
Credits: USAF photo

On Apr. 13, 2018, a USAF F-22A Raptor crashed and skidded on its belly during a botched takeoff in Nevada. It belonged to the 3rd Wing from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon.

The accident investigation board report concluded that pilot error was to blame for the crash at Naval Air Station Fallon. The pilot was unharmed in the mishap.

Following 5 years of intense work, the Raptor believed to be beyond flyable condition, rejoined the fleet.

After the completion of the long rebuilding process, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Philip Johnson, a functional-check-flight pilot assigned to the 514th Flight Test Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, came to JBER to fly the newly restored aircraft on May 4.

“They did a great job on the airplane,” said Johnson. “There were some minor maintenance notes found during the sortie, but those will be handled by maintenance. It’s good to go back to operational flying.”

USAF F-22 Raptor Returns To Service After Damaged Beyond-flyable Condition in Belly Landing
Tail number AF-07-146, an F-22 Raptor assigned to the 3rd Wing, successfully takes off during its functional check flight at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 4, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class J. Michael Peña)

Only 187 F-22 Raptors were produced, with the final jet leaving the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics assembly line in December 2011. Because of this, restoring tail number AF-07-146 to mission-capable status was imperative not only for the 3rd Wing but for the capabilities of the entire U.S. Air Force.

“There are only so many F-22s in the inventory,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Adam Willeford, the 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron senior enlisted leader. “We have a really distinct and important mission when it comes to fifth-generation aircraft and the power we project. Every aircraft in the fleet is highly valuable for mission success, so returning this one to operational status is a big win for the team.”

In early 2022, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kyle Veurink, an F-22 craftsman assigned to the 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, joined the team of Airmen rebuilding Aircraft 146, helping finish the final year of tests and repair.

“When I joined the project last year, we were missing multiple flight controls,” Veurink said. “The engines and seat weren’t installed, and it had panels merging into fuel cells.”

In that same year, an F-22 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, suffered a mishap when landing and had to undergo a similar rebuilding process to Aircraft 146. Veurink’s team traveled to Eglin to turn the mishap into an opportunity and cannibalized parts such as the leading edge, two flaps, and a seat of the Eglin F-22 Raptor.

Cannibalizing, or canning for short, refers to taking usable parts from one aircraft for use on another. This process can return aircraft to combat-capable status sooner because it cuts down on the time waiting for new parts to be manufactured.

Though the canning would extend the rebuilding period of Eglin’s aircraft, it allowed the 3rd Wing to accelerate the timeline for restoring aircraft 146, replenishing the number of operational F-22s in the fleet at a faster pace.

Despite the extended period of repairs, aircraft 146 pushed through its final tests, undergoing rebalancing and burner runs leading up to its functional test flight. Finally, after the combined efforts of several agencies, units, and Airmen, F-22 146 has rejoined the operational fleet, fortifying the air dominance of the 3rd Wing and the U.S. Air Force.

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