Oldest flying F-22 raptor returns to the skies

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One of the first F-22 test aircraft built has been returned to the air by the US Air Force as a flight sciences aircraft for its F-22 fleet modernization program.

Raptor #91-4006 became the oldest flying F-22 when it took off from Edwards Air Force base on July 17, the US Air Force revealed last week. The aircraft, which was one of the first to have avionics installed for testing, was grounded in November 2012 because of the high cost of upgrades it required.

A reported US$25m of funding to overhaul Raptor #91-4006 was approved more than two years ago. Since then almost 11,000 individual fixes have been carried out to the aircraft over 25,000 hours, to complete a refurbishment that also gives it the latest avionics systems for flight testing.

The work extends the Raptor’s life from 2,000 flight hours to 4,000. The aircraft has been at the 411th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) since May 2001.

4006 Dedication Ceremony

Lt. Col. Lee Bryant, 411th Flight Test Squadron commander and F-22 Combined Test Force director, at a ceremony celebrating the reintroduction of Raptor #4006 (Image: Christopher Higgins/Lockheed Martin)

Lt. Col. Lee Bryant, 411th FLTS commander and F-22 Combined Test Force (CTF) director, said, “It increases our test fleet from three to four and will help us tackle the expanding F-22 modernization program.”

The US Air Force has 183 of the fifth-generation fighter jets in its inventory and boasts that the F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft.

4006 ACF Part 2 Flight. Aerial photos.

F-22 Raptor #4006 makes its second flight July 18 following refurbishment to get it back in the air. (Image: Christopher Higgins/Lockheed Martin)

Steve Rainey, Lockheed Martin F-22 chief test pilot and member of the F-22 CTF, said, “This was a gainfully employed airplane when she was working.”

Rainey was the first military F-22 Raptor pilot while in the US Air Force and has worked on the Raptor program almost since its beginning. It was only fitting that the rise of the new phoenix was completed July 17 when Rainey took the newly refurbished Raptor to the sky for its “second first flight.”

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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