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.
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.
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.”