The F-22 production run is complete; now the focus shifts to upgrading the Raptor fleet.
Jan. 25, 2012—On Tuesday Dec. 13, 2011, the 187th and final F-22 Raptor—serial number 4195—rolled off Lockheed Martin's assembly line in Marietta, Ga., in a ceremony attended by scores of employees, officials, and a marching band. Thus ended a chapter in the life of the Air Force's premier air supremacy fighter, currently the only operational fifth generation fighter in the fleet.
"This is just the end of production," said Jeff Babione, Lockheed's F-22 program manager, in an interview. He noted that the ceremony in Marietta was a tribute to all the men and women from Team Raptor who took the aircraft from the drawing board to reality and helped run the manufacturing line.
Each Raptor built is a reflection of the workforce that helped deliver the "world's greatest fighter," said Babione.
With the shuttering of the assembly line, the F-22 program is shifting towards Raptor upgrades and modifications in the years ahead.
"This is only the beginning," said then Col. Sean Frisbee, the Air Force's F-22 system program manager at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, at the time of the rollout. "The next phase will include [adding] greater capability to an already incredible aircraft." Frisbee has since retired from the Air Force.
Nineteen years ago, in 1991, Lockheed Corporation, General Dynamics, and Boeing won the contract to begin development of the successor to the Air Force's F-15. Work began in 1994, with the first aircraft, serial number 4001, rolling out onto the Marietta flight line in 1997.
At the line's peak in 2005, around 5,600 employees worked on fabricating and assembling the Raptor at locations across the country. The Raptor fleet was once planned to be as large as 750 aircraft, but its size was steadily reduced over the years, until then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cut the buy to 179 in late 2004. That number subsequently grew to 183 and then settled at 187 by 2010.
Aircraft 4195 is slated for delivery to the Air Force in May, according to Air Combat Command. The schedule originally called for delivery in April, but the F-22 fleet's standdown from May to September of last year delayed it.
The aircraft bears the tail flash for JB Elmendorf, Alaska, and will join the 525th Fighter Squadron there, a component of the 3rd Wing.
After its rollout in December, the fighter was towed to the Marietta plant's "fuel barn" where it entered fuel systems purging and servicing. Scheduled after this were flight line engine runs by a Lockheed Martin pilot, said Babione.
According to ACC, the aircraft will undergo a series of standard acceptance flights, followed by final finish applications and radar cross section testing before delivery.
Lt. Col. Max Moga, 525th FS commander will fly the aircraft to Alaska once the final checkout is complete. Moga holds the distinction of being the first F-22 demo pilot.
Aircraft 4195 is a far different aircraft than Raptor 4001, according to ACC. The first half dozen F-22s were "hand built," with the sole purpose of proving and expanding the Raptor's flight envelope. They had minimal avionics capability for testing and had a smaller service life by design, according to ACC.
Only with the seventh aircraft did a Raptor possess a full avionics capability and service life.
F-22s from production lots 5 to 10 were in the hardware configuration capable of accepting all future combat capability upgrades envisioned for the Raptor.
The Common Configuration Program will now bring older F-22s (aircraft 4045 to 4083) to the same configuration, resulting in all combat-coded aircraft having the same capability as aircraft 4195. That capability is known as the Block 30/35 configuration.
Remaining F-22s (aircraft 4010 to 4044) are used for testing and training. They currently possess the same combat capability as when the first F-22 unit was declared ready for initial operations in late 2005.
The Air Force is upgrading these F-22s to the Block 20 configuration via the CCP. When this work is complete in 2013, these Raptors will have the same capability as when the Air Force declared in 2007 that the F-22 fleet was ready to execute its full range of operations.
Aircraft 4001 to 4009 were airframes used in developmental testing.
Factoring two losses in crashes, the Air Force will have 185 F-22s in total when aircraft 4195 enters the fleet.
The F-22's per aircraft price tag was $143 million, according to the Air Force's release on the rollout of Raptor 4195.
Since early 2011, Babione said Lockheed has worked to acknowledge the contribution of its workers and program officials across the country as the last F-22 took form.
The bulk of Raptor manufacturing was concentrated at three facilities: Boeing's plant in Seattle produced the wings and fuselage; Lockheed's factory in Fort Worth, Tex., fabricated the aircraft's mid-body; and Marietta built the fore fuselage and performed F-22 final assembly.
Special events have followed aircraft 4195 from start to finish. In May 2011, the mid-body left Fort Worth for Marietta accompanied by a group of motorcyclists. In June, the last wing assembly shipped from Seattle to Marietta.
Since the beginning of production for aircraft 4195, all the major assemblies have shut down and gone dark as the last Raptor took shape, said Babione. Tasked by the Air Force, the company has identified in excess of 30,000 tools related to the assembly line that the service would like to preserve.
Lockheed is in the process of disassembling those tools, wrapping them in protective material—identified with RFID tags—and placing them inside conex containers for shipment to the Sierra Army Depot in California. They will be stored there until needed by the government, said Babione.
At its peak, the F-22 program utilized up to 95,000 workers at any one time, when factoring all the vendors and suppliers involved in the aircraft's production, noted Babione. Most of the primary workers set up shop at the major assembly areas, with as many as 900 in Washington State, around 800 in Texas, and about 900 in Georgia at the program's peak in 2004-05, he added.
Many of these workers have had to find opportunities elsewhere now that the line has gone dark. Some have shifted to Lockheed's F-16 and F-35 manufacturing lines in Fort Worth. Many in Marietta have transitioned to the company's C-5 and C-130 work.
"Having been the first fifth generation fighter, we pioneered some skills that were never done before, and that has been good for assemblers to go work" on the F-35, said Babione. The latter features similar stealth coatings and technology, and requires skilled workers to fabricate and install these systems, he added.
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