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In the early 1980s, the US Air Force decided it needed a new air superiority fighter. This kickstarted a rather lengthy development process with Lockheed Martin at the helm. The result? The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
But, when was the F-22 Raptor first made?
The First F-22 Raptor
The first F-22 Raptor was built at some point in 1996. Although, it wasn't ready to fly at that point. Remember, if you are building a top-of-the-line military fighter aircraft, you need to make sure that it is going to be working properly when you send it up into the air. Development of the F-22 included nearly 44,000 wind tunnel test hours and 13,000 material sample tests.
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor had its first flight the following year in 1997.
The First Flight
7th September 1997. With Paul Metz in the cockpit, the F-22 Raptor was sent up into the air for the first time. It was a rousing success, and, by all accounts, the aircraft was performing absolutely satisfactorily. Pilot John Beesley was flying the safety chase aircraft for the Raptor's first flight and had to engage the afterburner on his F-16 to keep up with the Raptor.
Fifty-eight minutes after takeoff, Metz touched down, completing the maiden flight of the F-22. A successful first flight is always a great moment in aviation, the dawn of a completely new type of fighter aircraft.
Over the next few years, the F-22 Raptor would be sent up in the air regularly. Test data was recorded, and the aircraft would be evaluated and tuned. 3,496 flights and 7,616 test hours went into the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the F-22. Eventually, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor received the go-ahead to go into full-scale production.
The first production F-22 was delivered to Nellis Air Force Base in January 2003.
It was in 2005 that the aircraft started to be classed as military-ready and entered service. Although, it wasn't fully combat-ready until 2007 (when it achieved Full Operational Capability - or FOC), over 25 years since the project was first conceived. This wasn't a quick aircraft development project by any stretch of the imagination, but the F-22 Raptor did have countless issues to deal with during development, including an almost constant reduction in order size, which took a lot of cash away from Lockheed Martin.
After 2007, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor entered full service with the United States Air Force, and it has remained so ever since. The aircraft has never been sold to another nation, even allied nations. This is because the USAF wants to keep the stealth tech behind the aircraft 100% secret.
How Old Is the F-22 Raptor?
The F-22 Raptor was developed in the 1990s by Lockheed Martin. It flew for the first time in September 1997 and entered service with the United States Air Force (USAF) in 2005. The final F-22 Raptor rolled off Lockheed Martin's assembly line in late 2011.
The age of the F-22 Raptor can be measured based on its first flight, which took place on September 7, 1997, or its introduction into service, which occurred on December 15, 2005. As of 2023, the aircraft has been in service for over 18 years.
However, it is important to note that the age of military aircraft is not solely determined by the years of service. Various upgrades and modernizations can significantly extend the operational life of an aircraft. The F-22 Raptor has received a number of upgrades over the years, including software and avionics updates, making it a highly capable fighter even in the present day.
The F-22 Raptor revolutionized air dominance with its unmatched maneuverability, advanced sensors, stealth capabilities, and powerful engines. Despite its age, its capabilities continue to make it one of the most advanced and effective fighter aircraft in the world.
Current Status and Future Prospects of the F-22
As of 2023, the F-22 Raptor is still an active service, fifth-generation stealth air superiority fighter of the United States Air Force. However, production of the F-22 ended in 2011 after the delivery of 187 production aircraft (and 8 test units) due to cost concerns and the shift in focus towards other aircraft programs, such as the F-35 Lightning II.
The F-22 Raptor has been deployed in various international military exercises and combat operations, notably during the 2014 air strikes against ISIS in Syria. It has also been used for deterrence missions, such as conducting flyovers in response to North Korean provocations. However, the aircraft's limited production makes the fleet size relatively small compared to other fighters in the USAF.
While the F-22 remains one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world, there have been discussions about its future due to operational costs and the rise of newer aircraft programs like the F-35. Nevertheless, the F-22 Raptor continues to serve as a crucial component of the USAF's fighter fleet.
The End of Production
Just as quickly as the F-22 Raptor went into production, it was ended. In 2011, the last aircraft was built. The total number built was 195, with 8 of these being test aircraft and the rest entering combat. The US Air Force originally intended to purchase a total of 750. However, budget cuts and changing equipment requirements reduced the total order number.
Of course, the legacy of the F-22 lives on, and the aircraft is still in service today. Parts of the designs are being used for future aircraft, and this particular model is going to be flying for years and years to come.
The F-22 program began in 1981 when the US Air Force determined the need for a replacement for the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon. However, it wasn't until 1996 that Lockheed Martin built the first model. It took a further six years to produce a production model. However, along the way, the team at Lockheed Martin learned a ton about developing advanced aircraft like the F-22 Raptor.
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