—John A. Tirpak
May 18, 2007— The Air Force’s new stealth fighter, the F-22A Raptor, makes its air show flying program premier today at Andrews AFB, Md., about a year ahead of schedule. Last fall, plans called for an F-22 to merely make flybys at a few select air shows. However, Air Combat Command recently approved a “version 1.0” demonstration program that showcases some of the aircraft’s unique capabilities. The routine features a series of maximum-performance climbs, turns, flips, “tail slides,” and other maneuvers that makes use of the F-22’s extraordinary flight controls and thrust vectoring—all of which are currently unfamiliar to the general public.
“This is not the final version,” F-22 demo pilot Maj. Paul Moga told reporters in Washington yesterday. “But we wanted to get this out as soon as we could.” He predicted that ACC would permit more maneuvers as the 2007 season progresses. The F-22 demonstration routine, which runs about 12 minutes, is heavy on tight turns, slow flight, and thrust vectoring because the aircraft’s main attributes—stealth, ability to supercruise and networked data collection—can’t be demonstrated for an air show crowd, explained Moga. He continued, “We wanted to show people that this is a much more capable jet than the F-15.” Nevertheless, in a high-speed pass, the F-22 will whoosh by spectators at .94 Mach—about 600 knots indicated airspeed. The maneuver is called the “car alarm” because the sudden onset sound of the F-22’s powerful engines sets off car alarms for miles around. However, ACC’s sole F-22 demo pilot insists that the impressive maneuvers in the F-22’s air show routine are “nothing crazy.” The maneuvers are part of the flying training that all Raptor pilots receive. Even those that aren’t especially tactically useful—but look great—are part of any Raptor pilot’s repertoire because instructors want the pilots to develop total confidence in the airplane. ACC believes such training will prevent the pilot from creating an unrecoverable situation.
A breathtaking “tail slide” maneuver, in which the aircraft stops ascending and begins to fall backwards—under total control—is something performed by Raptor students on their third sortie, Moga said. In designing the routine—and the F-22 syllabus at Tyndall AFB, Fla., the fighter’s schoolhouse—Moga said instructors sat around and made a list of “what did we always wish we could do in an airplane,” and then built it into the course. Many of the moves come in quite handy in close-in dogfights, he said. The F-22 air show program is “thoroughly tested” and never puts the aircraft or the pilot into an unrecoverable situation, stated Moga. That’s different from the air show routines flown by MiG and Sukhoi pilots, whose aircraft can do some of the same maneuvers, he said, adding that they use aircraft specially configured for air shows. The fighters have unique fuel systems, center of gravity, and gaudy paint, and are bereft of fighting systems. Moga said that, in the midst of certain flashy maneuvers, “they are literally out of control,” unlike his routine which he can perform with “any operational Raptor.” And, he added, “I can land, arm, and go fight” with the same aircraft. Moga noted that he recently pulled 10.2 Gs in the F-22, performing a pullout from a hard turn. The F-22’s specifications say only that the aircraft can pull 9.5 Gs, but can take more, depending on “the ability of the pilot” to bear the pressure. Still, technicians checked the fighter for signs of strain but found none.
For the present, Moga is the only Raptor pilot permitted to fly air show demonstrations, and he says those shows will be limited in number. There are not enough F-22As to do more.
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