The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter tends to garner the lion’s share of media attention, but it was the F-22 Raptor that introduced the world to the very concept of a fifth-generation fighter. The Lockheed Martin-built F-22 saw its production halted just about halfway through its initial run, thanks to (arguably shortsighted) defense cutbacks during the Obama era. Subsequent cannibalization of the production line for the sake of the F-35 rapidly eliminated any hope of an F-22 resurgence.
As a result, the United States may possess the best air superiority fighter ever to take to the skies, but it has precious few of them — just the 187 that were originally built (and this number includes some with airframes that have been damaged in flight mishaps and natural disasters.)
With the Air Force already looking toward developing a “sixth-generation” air intercept fighter in the coming years, the venerable F-22 may be replaced before it ever has a chance to really show its chops in a dog fight with a worthy enemy, like Russia’s Su-57 or China’s J-20. But just in case such a fight were to break out, here are a few things the F-22 has up its sleeve that you may not already know about.
1) It Can Cruise Better Than Any Other Fifth Generation Fighter
The F-22 Raptor’s “supercruise” capability allows it to maintain extremely high speeds (Mach 1.5), while fully loaded, without engaging its afterburners. China and Russia have both announced plans to achieve that capability in their own fifth-gen platforms; but to date, neither has managed the feat. In fact, not even the “huskier” F-35 can manage supersonic speeds without dumping fuel into its afterburners. This sets the F-22 apart from the competition in terms of both speed and loiter time. The F-22 can reach an objective faster while still having more fuel left in its tanks than any other stealth fighter on the planet.
2) The F-22 Can Carry Twice As Many Missiles As the F-35
Both the F-22 and F-35 have to rely on internal weapon bays to carry their ordnance while maintaining a stealth profile, but the F-22 has three of these weapon bays designed to house 2 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles along with six AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. That gives the F-22 a total of eight air-to-air weapons as compared to the F-35’s internal payload of just four. However, Lockheed Martin recently unveiled a new weapons rack for the F-35 that may shave that lead down by two. This will allow in the near future the F-35 to carry six air-to-air weapons into a fight.
3) Thrust Vectoring Makes the F-22 a Deadly Acrobat
The F-22 may have to rely on stealth to gain an advantage over other aircraft and air defense systems. Its twin thrust vectoring F119-PW-100 engines, each capable of producing 35,000 pounds of thrust, ensure that it’s among the most agile fighters in the sky as well. The thrust vectoring jet nozzles can point in different directions independently of one another, thus allowing the aircraft to literally perform maneuvers that aerodynamics simply wouldn’t allow otherwise. This engine vectoring allows the F-22 to travel in one direction while the aircraft is pointed at another. Yes, you read that right. For example pointing its nose down toward enemy aircraft flying below it while it continues moving forward.
This ability provides the F-22 with a very high angle of attack — allowing it to engage enemy aircraft while they have no hope of returning fire. Of course, conducting such a maneuver scrubs the fighter of its forward-moving momentum, but thanks to those powerful engines, the F-22 is capable of clawing its way back up to Mach 2.25 extremely quickly.
The F-22 truly does pack a heavyweight punch while moving like a featherweight fighter.
This article was originally published in November 2019. It has been edited for republication.