Honestly, we at FighterSweep couldn’t be any more excited about this Milestone Monday. Eighteen years ago today saw the maiden flight of the world’s most feared combat aircraft, the Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor, with Lockheed-Martin Test Pilot Paul Metz at the controls.
Now before you get all bent out of shape about how it’s not fair to say that because it hasn’t the combat record of the Eagle (valid), has been shot down by all manner of legacy fighters during exercises (valid), and even shot down by fifty-year-old trainers (also valid), just hear us out.
The Raptor is a transformational aircraft, one that came along at the perfect time. Why the perfect time, you ask? It’s not as if everyone else has been sitting on their butts for the last thirty years; design bureaus all over the world have been developing and working on new aircraft to beat or compete with our current benchmarks–the Light Gray Eagle, Super Hornet, and the Viper.

THe benchmarks of American airpower, all in one photo: the F-15C, F-16C, and F/A-18E. (Photo by Scott Wolff)
The benchmarks of American airpower, all in one photo: the F-15C, F-16C, and F/A-18E. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

Many countries, in more ways than one, have met or have well-exceeded our fourth-generation (legacy) capabilities. We’ve actually featured a lot of those very agile and capable designs here on FighterSweep: the Super Flankers we’ve featured recently, PAK-FA, the French Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Chinese J-20, and others.
Additionally, and probably more importantly, potential threat nations have gone down the path of creating eye-watering Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS), buying and deploying advanced double-digit SAM batteries with AESA radars. No matter what we add to them or hang on them, our legacy aircraft can’t penetrate an area defended by such systems–many of which are very mobile and difficult to target.
The F-22 can.
So what are we saying?  The Raptor is a super fighter that for the first time in history has virtually everything a pilot wants in a fighter aircraft. Yes, it is a very expensive beast; no expense was spared, but the Air Force got what it wanted and needed performance-wise for those costs.
A Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor cranks through a 9-G turn at .92 Mach over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
A Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor cranks through a 9-G turn at .92 Mach over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

And as for performance, here’s a fun little anecdote from one of the Raptor’s Dedicated Initial Operational Test and Evaluation pilots:
“I did a takeoff where I was at about 570 knots at Edwards, I was prior to the end of the runway, not used to being that fast so I pulled up to 90 degrees nose high. I was single-ship with my own tanker and first chance to try this with a Raptor so I decided to see what she’d do. The mass flow at that point is close to producing max possible thrust; the aircraft continued to accelerate in the climb to .99 Mach passing about 20,000 feet and then slowly began to decelerate.
Unofficially, according to the flight test engineers, I would have ended up higher than 65,000 feet on that day and broke every time-to-climb record we could think of for category & weight class. Oh by the way, that wasn’t a Streak Eagle or MiG-25 stripped down bare with weight removed, with no external stores for combat configuration, etcetera. That was in a stock, off-the-line F-22, full of gas, combat-configured with the internal weapons bay full. As an Eagle guy previous I was absolutely astonished; I hope someday we go after the official records because this jet will likely crush most–if not all–of them.
One last interesting point is that I did that going straight up after takeoff. That day I ended up blasting past my assigned altitude of 29,000 after takeoff at Edwards. I ended up at 31.5 AFTER a 5-G pull to level out which, at that weight and altitude, should bleed energy fast; however, when I rolled out I was still at 330knots KCAS!!”
At the end of the day, the Raptor is an absolute monster. So many of its pilots, many of whom came to the F-22 from other fighter platforms, have all said that when the balloon goes up, it’s the jet you want to be in.
(Featured Photo by Scott Wolff)
 

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