If you're about to join the Air Force any time soon, there's a good chance your work is going to involve maintaining aircraft. If you're lucky, you'll get assigned to the F-22 Raptor. Even with the rise of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, there is no better air dominance fighter in the world. Unlike the F-35, however, if one of the F-22's Pratt & Whitney engines fail and you don't have the tools to fix it, you can just head out to Home Depot and get what you need.
Air Superiority: You can do it, we can help.
The F-35 steals headlines in terms of the latest whiz-bang technology when it comes to stealth, visibility, and even the giant helmets worn by F-35 pilots. But the F-35 cannot substitute what the Raptor brings to the fight. The F-35 has an aerodynamic performance similar to flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It can't fly as high or as fast. What it brings is firepower – and a lot of it. It was designed to be an air-to-ground fighter.
Meanwhile, the F-22 Raptor is the quiet professional in the world of air superiority fighters. It has a smaller radar cross-section than the F-35 (the size of a marble versus the size of a golf ball) and is probably the most lethal air combat aircraft in the world, even considering the fifth-generation fighters produced by great power adversaries like China and Russia. But the area where it's even more superior isn't in the air, it's on the ground.
We're talking about maintenance and repairs.
The F-22 gets repaired like a normal plane while the F-35 is happy it doesn't catch fire before take off. Small victories.
The F-22 Raptor is one of the Air Force's most reliable planes. Roughly half the time a Raptor spends being repaired is just to fix Low Observable (LO) stealth coatings that get damaged when ground crews open her up for things like routine maintenance. Lockheed-Martin is currently working on a way to reduce the damage to the stealth coating for this. What is really impressive about the F-22 is how easy it is for a trained ground crew to repair her engines.
Lockheed-Martin designed the F-22 with two F-119 Pratt Whitney engines. These sturdy but powerful thrust monsters were designed to be maintained on the flightline using only six common tools available at any commercial hardware store – Not something you'd expect from one of the world's most advanced air superiority fighters, but it came from what used to be a common principle in the military: simplicity.
And yet, I still wouldn't trust the Army with this.
The Pratt Whitney engines used in the F-22 Raptor deliver 22 percent more thrust while using almost half of the parts used in the previous Pratt Whitney designs while making the F-22 the most maneuverable fighter ever flown by any military anywhere and allowing for supercruise speeds of almost two times the speed of sound. Everything about this engine has been expertly engineered, from the titanium alloys to the ceramic coating used on certain parts to absorb radar signals.
Now new airmen can be sent to Home Depot to pick up the tools to fix this marvel of engineering – along with the usual buckets of prop wash.