At this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo held at RAF Fairford, the US military was displaying two of it’s most advanced fighter aircraft – the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
The F-22 was born out of the US Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program. The program began in 1981 with the goal to develop an air superiority fighter to replace the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon and to counter then emerging threats like the Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 and Mikoyan MiG-29.
Two prototype aircraft were selected from the proposals for the ATF – the Lockheed YF-22 and the Northrop YF-23. Both aircraft flew for the first time in 1990. The Lockheed YF-22 was declared as the selected aircraft in 1991. The YF-22 was brought into production as the F-22.
The F-22 is a fifth generation single seat stealth fighter. It’s primary role is as an air superiority fighter but it can also be used in ground attack, electronic warfare, and signal intelligence roles. The aircraft entered service with the USAF in 2005. Production of the F-22 ended in 2009 with 187 aircraft being delivered to the USAF. The F-22 is not available for export sales to any country.
The F-22 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines with thrust vectoring. It has an estimated maximum speed of Mach 2.25 and a super cruise of Mach 1.8. The aircraft is equipped with a wide range of avionics and data link electronics. The USAF and analysts consider the F-22 to be critical to it’s tactical air superiority and claim that it is currently unmatched by any in service or projected fighter.
The fly-away cost for an F-22 was around $150 million in 2009.
The F-35 is the result of the Joint Strike Fighter program. The program was intended to develop a fighter that could replace a variety of existing strike, ground and fighter aircraft. The F-35 comes in 3 variants based on the launch and recovery methods required by the requirements and arm of the military it will be used by. The F-35A is a Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft. The F-35B is a Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) and the F-35C is the Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant for naval carrier operations.
The JSF program is one of the most expensive weapons systems programs in history and is estimated to cost around $1.5 trillion over the life of the program.
The F-35 resembles the larger F-22. It features many design elements and technologies which have been derived from the F-22 but was built keeping in mind it’s export feasibility. The aircraft is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan engine. It has an estimated maximum speed of Mach 1.6, the aircraft does not technically have supercruise abilities – but can cruise at a sustained speed of Mach 1.2 without after burners.
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