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An F-22 Raptor climbs after takeoff at Andersen AFB, Guam, Nov. 24, 2014. Air Force photo by A1C Amanda Morris.

The 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.)