Air Force now plans to retain the F-22 Raptor fleet into the 2040s, the service
said in response to a question from Air
Force Magazine. “Based upon current projected fleet flying hour programs
and actual aircraft usage, the predicted service life of the Raptor fleet goes
into the 2040s without a SLEP [service life extension program] of the
airframe,” USAF spokesman Ed Gulick said in an email. While the design life of
the F-22 is 8,000 hours—which roughly equates to a service life of about 22
years, at 360 hours of flying per year—each aircraft has data recorders measuring
every stress and strain on the jet. These data are “used by the F-22 Aircraft
Structural Integrity Program [ASIP] to apply a Fatigue Severity Ratio factor to
actual aircraft hours and determine equivalent flight hours,” he said.
Analytical models and engineering analysis of the data, taken along with “the
Raptor’s projected flying hour program,” yielded the service life projection. Air
Combat Command started substituting more simulator hours for actual flying
hours on the F-22 a few years ago as a way to husband the asset, and future Red
Flag exercises also will be predominantly virtual, buying more F-22 airframe
hours. Previous service estimates forecast the F-22 would have to start to
retire in the mid-2030s. (See Red
Flag for the Future in the October 2014 issue of Air Force Magazine.)
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