It is also the U.S. Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft. It entered service in December 2005 after 15 years of testing and development. During this process, the airframe was significantly redesigned and production numbers cut, as prototypes of the Raptor failed to meet Air Force expectations.
The jet performs both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
The Raptor is state-of-the-art. It boasts the most capable radar fitted in an aircraft of its size: 62 feet long, with a wingspan of 44.5 feet. It can fly up to 1,600 miles per hour (Mach 2.42).
It’s also difficult to detect, with greater stealth capabilities than other aircraft. Technologies that make a plane “low-observable,” in the vocabulary of the Air Force, muffle noise and radio transmissions and lower the heat of its infrared picture. The angles of the wings and the tail of the Raptor are aligned in way that makes it harder to spot; the slope of the main body and the fact that its weapons can be carried inside also help make it less visible.
The F-22 also has more thrust and a sleeker design than other fighters, so it can hit the speed of sound without using afterburner, which slows and limits the range of aircraft that need to use it.
The jet can outmaneuver other aircraft because of its “sophisticated aerodesign, advanced flight controls, thrust vectoring, and high thrust-to-weight ratio,” according to the Air Force.
The maiden flight of the original test model was made in September 1990, and the Air Force has since ordered around 400 of the fighter jets.