ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE - The last of 12 F-22A Raptors from the 27th Fighter Squadron returned Friday to Langley Air Force Base, Va., marking the end of the first operational overseas deployment for the advanced stealth fighter jets.
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The Air Force used Alaska for the deployment so the Raptor pilots could take advantage of the new plane's performance in the 67,000 square miles of Alaska military operating areas and ranges. The five-week assignment also allowed the F-22A to fly with and fight against visiting U.S. combat aircraft participating in Operation Northern Edge and to work with the specially modified F-15Cs of Elmendorf Air Force Base's 3rd Wing.
Brig. Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of the 3rd Wing, was involved in the F-22 program in its early days and flew with and against the Raptors during their stay, including Northern Edge missions with nearly 100 aircraft in the fight.
"It (the Raptor) is just an incredible airplane," he said. "I was making a joke the other day: It is almost like God, 'cause you never know where it's at, 'cause you can't see it, but its always there when you need it."
Most pilots and commanders had multiple opportunities to engage the Raptors and assess their capabilities.
"From an adversary's standpoint, if there is a F-22 around, you don't know," said Lt. Gen. Douglas Fraser, Alaskan Command, 11th Air Force and Alaska NORAD Region Commander.
"So, if you see another airplane around you go, 'OK, I know there is an F-22 around here somewhere, but I don't know where it is.' So what that does is that it now puts indecision in the mind of the adversary. Everybody gains because of that indecision," he said.
The Raptor is the product of a quarter-century of research, testing and development aimed to replace the F-15 Eagle.
The F-22A is a big fighter that is appreciably tubbier than the F-15, its large internal volume is used to tuck missiles and bombs in two weapons bays on the side of each engine intake and one large bay in the belly. By carrying its weapons on the inside, the Raptor maintains a ghostlike radar signature and clean aerodynamics.
The F-22A is able to cruise at 1,000 mph at 60,000 feet without the use of afterburners. Each of its two powerful turbofan engines crank out over 70,000 pounds of thrust and can vector their thrust in concert to quicken the F-22As ability to pitch up or down, and if vectored in opposite directions, the Raptor's rate of roll increases. Massive twin vertical stabilizers with huge moving surfaces, coupled with moving tail planes, are designed to give the Raptor an edge if its pilot winds up in a battle.
At a cost of about $130 million dollars a plane, the Raptor is not only the world's only fifth-generation fighter but the most expensive. Adding in research and development and testing takes the cost to about $360 million each, officials have said.
The Air Force originally planned to buy over 700 Raptors, but that has been lowered to 183. The Air Force plans to base 36 planets at Elmendorf, beginning in the fall.