One of the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world requires hours of pre-flight checks. The F-22 Raptor stealth fighter is finicky with high maintenance costs. It requires a ground crew that has an inordinate amount of patience that can operate with extreme attention to detail. Nothing is forgotten or ignored on the F-22 before it hits the skies.
The F-22 was designed to completely disrupt the way fighter planes are designed and operated. They are stealthy, fast, and highly maneuverable. The air superiority starts with the two Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines that provide more thrust than any other fifth-generation airplane. The F-22 can easily go MACH 2 (1,500 miles per hour) without afterburners. This “supercruise” capability makes the airplane difficult to observe on enemy radar.
Why Pilots Love the F-22
The avionics, sensors, and onboard radar are top-notch. Pilots are easily alerted to incoming threats for maximum situational awareness. It is probably the ablest U.S. airplane when it comes to defeating enemy surface-to-air missiles. It is strong on the attack in air-to-air and air-to-ground modes with numerous types of advanced missiles and bombs.
However, the downsides of F-22s quickly become apparent. They are expensive. With research and development costs, the F-22 rings in at an astounding $334 million each. The airplane has to be babied and maintenance is a killer. There are around 180 F-22s in the Air Force inventory, but about half are grounded due to maintenance issues at any given time.
Wait Until You See the Number of Pre-Check Chores
F-22 pre-flight checks take hours with numerous crew members crawling over all areas of the warplane. To get an idea, here are just a few of the pre-flight chores that must be done by maintenance personnel. You can watch a video of this work below. But the following list gives you an idea of what is involved.
-Foreign object check of the runway
-Inspection of weapons bay doors
-Load missiles and bombs
-Check the throttle and stick
-Check six LCD displays
-Check systems of threat identity, threat priority, and tracking information analysis
-Clean cockpit windshield
-Check installation of panels and tighten bolts
-Check egress system
-Conduct a second check of the cockpit
-Pilot checks the cockpit and does pilot pre-flight checks
-Crew chief makes final preps
-Crew chief makes a final check of interior and exterior of cockpit
-Final full check of communications, navigation, identification, and flight information
-Taxi and lift-off
To be sure, all aircraft require long lists of pre-flight conditions, although the F-22 takes it to a different level. But many in the Air Force would argue that the money and time required to get the fighter in the air is worth it.
1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.