Six years after an accident that nearly saw the jet written off, a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor is about to take to the skies again. The fifth-generation fighter was damaged during a training mission in 2012. That sent it skidding hundreds of metres down an air base runway. Now, after extensive repairs, the stealth jet is about to re-enter service.
The Raptor was damaged on May 31, 2012. At the time a trainee pilot was conducting touch and go landings at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. According to the Air Force Accident Investigation Board’s findings, the pilot failed to accelerate the jet to military power and engaged “premature retraction of the landing gear”. Without enough thrust, the F-22 Raptor, known by its USAF serial number 02-4037, fell back down to Earth and skidded on its belly for almost a kilometre. The pilot escaped from the damaged aircraft after it stopped, suffering only minor injuries. The pilot was reportedly only on his third flight in an F-22 when the accident occurred.
The Air Force reckoned 02-4037 could be saved. However, it would take $35 million (about R473 million) to do it. In the U.S. Military, it was known as a “Class A” accident. This is an accident that involves a million dollars or more of damage to an aircraft. Raptors aren’t exactly growing on trees. Not only did the F-22 production line close in 2012, but at $142 million per plane, it would have been cheaper to fix the jet anyway. The damaged warbird was taken to Odgen Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Then began what was thought to be a four-year repair job.
The actual repair, according to FlightGlobal, did take four years. It involved “repairing scratches to skins of the wing and the stabilator”. The Air Force also patched a fuselage bulkhead and wing skins and “replaced the skins and doors of the central and aft fuselage”. That’s an astonishingly minor amount of damage. Especially considering the plane belly-flopped onto a runway, likely at speeds greater than 160 km/h an hour, and skidded down a hard surface for more than a kilometre.
Despite the successful repairs, without further work the F-22 Raptor will almost certainly never see combat. According to online plane spotters, 02-4037 is an early model F-22. It was delivered in 2002 at the older Block 10 performance standard. Block 10 aircraft are restricted to the F-22’s original role of air-to-air combat only. They also do not have radar, air-to-air weapon upgrades, or even rudimentary air-to-ground capability.
What does the Air Force have planned for 02-4037? That’s a good question. The service is bringing another Block 10 jet up to the more-recent-but-still-not-combat-ready Block 20 standard to serve as a test jet, at a cost of $25 million. An upgrade to Block 20 seems likely, perhaps to serve as another test jet, or maybe the Air Force will go all the way and take it to the latest Block 30 and 35 standards, which have all the latest Raptor bells and whistles.
From: PM USA