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The F-22 Is So Stealth It Flew Under an Iranian F-4 Completely Undetected

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A 1st Fighter Wing's F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., pulls into position to accept fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker with the 756th Air Refueling Squadron, Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility, Md., off the east coast on May 10, 2012. The first Raptor assigned to the Wing arrived Jan. 7, 2005. This aircraft was allocated as a trainer, and was docked in a hanger for maintenance personnel to familiarize themselves with its complex systems. The second Raptor, designated for flying operations, arrived Jan. 18, 2005. On Dec. 15, 2005, Air Combat Command commander, along with the 1 FW commander, announced the 27th Fighter Squadron as fully operational capable to fly, fight and win with the F-22.

F-22 vs. F-4: Who Wins? In November 2012, two Iranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25s tried to down a U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator drone. At the time, the MQ-1 was flying in international air space, 16 miles from the Iranian border; the drone flight was legal, but understandably instigatory.

Iran scrambled the two Su-25s, which quickly closed on the drone. But the Su-25 was designed for close air support, not air superiority, and it struggled impotently with its cannons to shoot down the MQ-1. 

The American drone escaped the interaction unscathed, having filmed the entire sequence with on-board cameras. In response to the incident, the U.S. modified its procedures to better protect its vulnerable drone fleet. It began providing drones with a fighter escort.

One year later, in 2013, the Iranians – apparently unaware of this new U.S. drone-escort policy – engaged another MQ-1. This time, the Iranians sent a jet with some air-to-air game, the F-4 Phantom – an aircraft the U.S. exported to Iran in the 1970s, back when the two countries were allies. Unlike the Su-25, the F-4 was entirely capable of bringing down the MQ-1. But when the Iranian F-4s moved to engage the MQ-1, they discovered they were not alone. 

Escorting the MQ-1, lurking silently, was a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor – a fifth-generation stealth fighter. As the Iranian pilots learned that day, the F-22 “is equipped with stealth technology that enables it to operate virtually undetected by radar.” Indeed, the Iranians were oblivious to its presence as the F-22 stalked them from below.

This aircraft is packed with enviable, cutting-edge technology. “The F-22 Raptor is a technological marvel,” I wrote previously. “The world’s first operational fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 was designed with a bevy of novel features – stealth technology, supercruise, supermaneuverability, and sensor fusion – all combined to create the preeminent air superiority fighter.” 

The Iranians flying in Vietnam War-era F-4 Phantoms were ill-equipped to match an F-22. Granted, the F-4 was a capable airframe – the most produced American supersonic military aircraft ever – but it first flew in 1958. The F-22, on the other hand, was an up-to-date, 21st century marvel. “The F-22’s software is advanced and impressive. Using sensor fusion, data from multiple onboard sensor systems are synthesized to create a more comprehensive tactical picture,” I wrote. Besides, the F-4 was not built for dogfighting. “The Phantom was not particularly maneuverable,” I wrote. “Enemy MiGs could typically outturn the F-4, which wasn’t designed for dogfighting and suffered from adverse yaw in tight turns. Instead, the F-4 was intended to fire radar-guided missiles from beyond visual range, not engage in air combat maneuvering.” Well, the F-22 was comfortably within visual range: It was directly below the Iranians.     

The F-22’s pilot, operating undetected, had sidled right in. “He flew under their aircraft to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there,” then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said. Having determined the F-4’s payloads, the Raptor pilot finally alerted the Iranians to his presence. 

He “pulled up on their left-wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home,’” Welsh said. The F-4s complied and bugged out.

The incident is indicative of the friction that has underscored the U.S.-Iranian relationship since the late 1970s. Currently, the two sides are working toward a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, which is reportedly nearing break-out capacity and has made Iran an international pariah. The world is watching closely as the negotiations unfold. In the meantime, hopefully the two rival nations can avoid any further dogfighting incidents.  

F-22 Photo Gallery

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An F-22 Raptor takes off after Raptors from the 3rd Wing and 477th Fighter Group participated in a close formation taxi, known as an Elephant Walk, March 26, 2019, during a Polar Force exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. This two-week exercise gives squadrons an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to forward deploy and deliver overwhelming combat airpower. (U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)

F-22 Loyal Wingman

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

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A Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptor flies in formation with a French Air and Space Force F3-R Rafale June 30, 2021, near Oahu, Hawaii. FASF aircraft, maintenance, and support personnel traveled to Hawaii for exercise Wakea as part of the bilateral cooperation in the Pacific between the United States and France. During Wakea, Hawaii ANG F-22 Raptors trained with FASF aircraft to enhance air-combat expertise and interoperability between the two countries’ aircraft. In a unique association, the F-22s and the air defense mission at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are assigned to the 154th Wing, Hawaii Air National Guard. Collectively known as the Hawaiian Raptors, the Hawaii ANG 199th Fighter Squadron and active duty 19th Fighter Squadron serve together under the Air National Guard-led active-associate construct to execute their mission sets. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Orlando Corpuz)

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F-22 Raptor. Image: Creative Commons.

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F-22 Raptors assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. arrives at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England Oct. 5, 2018. The Raptors will train with U.S. allies and partners as a demonstration of U.S. commitment to European regional security. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

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F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

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F-22A Raptor Demonstration Team aircraft maintainers prepare to launch out Maj. Paul “Max” Moga, the first F-22A Raptor demonstration team pilot, July 13. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher L. Ingersoll)

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Arash

    December 5, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    Aye aye aye. The tedious, old stories of American superiority in arms. Hopefully this will make Americans feel better about the deteriorating social and political situation in their country!

    You can hardly find anyone in Iran that does not recognize America’s huge advantage in arms, particularly among the Iranian leadership.

    In 1991, Iran witnessed America’s overwhelming success in the campaign against Iraq. Matching the US, gun for gun and plane for plane is futile the conclusion was.

    That is why Iran has long adopted an asymmetrical strategy against the US. As an example, Iran has not bought a single jetfighter since 1991!

    And that is why Iran has developed a network of proxies and made advances in quick strike, solid fuel missiles deeply buried in “missile cities” as well as swarm tactics by drones.

    A 2003, an American war-game had Iran defeating a US carrier group, sinking an American carrier and that was before Iran developed its current missile and drone capabilities.

    Look at the blackout caused in Ukraine by Iranian drones. This is what’s awaiting the entire middle east, above all Israel, in the case on a military strike on Iran. Iran has developed the largest missiles force in the world. Iran simply has more missiles and drones now than it’s adversaries have anti-air missiles.

    Moreover, ironically, the more the US boasts about its superior weapons, the more determined Iranian leadership gets in never letting go of its nuclear capabilities.

    By bullying other countries and uncontrolled arms-race, US is not scaring anyone, it is only fueling missile and nuclear proliferation across the glebe.

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