An F-22 Raptor participating in the Air Force’s Topgun program appears to have retracted its landing gear too early during take off, resulting in the fifth generation fighter slamming back into the ground and skidding to a stop over the weekend. The incident, which took place at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, has been characterized as a significant mishap, and likely will cost millions of dollars to repair. The pilot was able to exit the aircraft under his own power.
While details pertaining to the circumstances of the incident remain slim, Warzone writer Tyler Rogoway reported that Elmendorf public affairs officers confirmed the incident occurred and said that the damage sustained by the F-22 was “extensive.” SOFREP contacted Elmendorf Air Force Base, but was unable to confirm the details.
The F-22 was reportedly in Alaska to provide an adversary to students attending the Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, which movie fans from the 1980s may recognize as Topgun. The F-22, like a number of other combat aircraft that occasionally even include foreign sourced fighters, offer an opportunity for pilots to engage in mock combat drills one on one, against a surprise opponent.
While such an incident could be considering embarrassing in any kind of aircraft, belly flopping an F-22 is an even larger issue. Unlike America’s other fifth generation fighter, the F-35, America has a finite supply of F-22s, despite their reputation as the most capable fighter on the planet. The F-22, which was also designed and built by Lockheed Martin, saw its program cut under the Obama administration in favor of reduced defense spending. As a result, the entire infrastructure required to produce the legendary Raptor has since been shut down and repurposed.
That means the 187 operational F-22 Raptors in the U.S. Air Force inventory are the only F-22s that will ever be be built. Although the aircraft cost a reported $150 million each while in production, that cost combined with their capabilities and rarity make the fighter nearly priceless today. The F-22, then, is certainly the last airframe one might want to make costly mistakes with — and let there be no confusion, this mistake will certainly be costly.
A similar incident that took play on May 31st, 2012 also saw a pilot inadvertently retract the landing gear of his F-22 while failing to provide adequate thrust. The resulting crash saw the F-22 belly flop similar to this weekend’s incident, before sliding on the runway for an estimated 2,800 feet. That pilot was also uninjured in the crash.
The damages sustained to that aircraft took six years to repair and cost the Defense Department a whopping $35 million, however.
It is unclear if the damage in this most recent incident is comparable to that of the 2012 crash, but initial reports and the image released by the Air Force seem to suggest that it was.
Despite the Defense Department leaning heavily into the F-35 program as the future of American military aviation, the F-22 is expected to remain in service until at least 2060. Like the F-35, the F-22 has legendary stealth capabilities, but as a faster and more maneuverable air platform, it is widely touted as the superior dogfighter, and perhaps, the most capable air-to-air combat platform in the world.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force via The Warzone