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.
It can cruise better than any other 5th 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.
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