The story of the F-22 Raptor is not short. Dating back to the 1980's it began the research for the project. The idea was to create a plane that could replace the F-15 Eagle on a role of air superiority. The project then took another point of view. Apart of the air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities, the F-22 was set to be the king of stealth in the air.
Even if the F-22 project has never claimed a life, an accident happened on the final steps of the testing period, following some pilot-induced operations. The aircraft was not able to fly again but some parts were used in an antenna testbed at Rome Air Development Center. After this accident, even if it was attributed to a pilot's mistake, the testing period was suspended, and some changes were introduced in the software in order to avoid a similar situation from happening again.
Actually, taking a look at the images for the F-22 or flying it in any simulator gives us a clear impression that something new has happened in this evolution of fighters. Probably the role of a fighter has completely changed. The F-22 puts ahead the stealth condition over everything, up to the point that it carries all its weapons inside and no longer on the wings, even if it still has the possibility to use some detachable hard-points in them. In any case, those ones are normally used for extra fuel depots for long range operations.
A new characteristic of the plane is the one we encounter with the engines. They are actually some of the most powerful on the fighter's industry in a way that can bring the F-22 far over supersonic speeds without the use of the afterburners, which would compromise heavily the stealth condition. Even if test flights have proven that the aircraft can be brought at higher speeds than the manufacturers recommendations, Mach 1.5 without afterburners is already an impressive speed to reach. With afterburners on, theory demonstrates that it could even reach Mach 2.5 under certain conditions.
Another feature of the engines is that they can rotate around a horizontal side to side axis, providing extra power to the climbing rate. This, together with many computer integrated solutions and aerodynamic perfection has brought the F-22 to be one of the most maneuverable existing planes. And this feature, compared with the large size of the fighter (about 20 meters) seems to show the incredible efforts that have been put in the project.
The improvement in reliability and maintainability have been also some of the key points. Compared to other stealth planes, where the composite materials and coatings have made them to need special atmospheric controlled conditions in order to be repaired, the F-22 can be mended in a simple hangar. At same time, the life-cycle for the plane has been increased to the limits, something that will reduce the long-term costs.
The radar that has been mounted on board combined with the hight stealth, allow the F-22 to engage multiple air threats before they have even manage to detect its presence. In any case, a canon with only 480 rounds (which allows just 5 seconds of continuous fire) has been mounted internally, and it also has been prepared for air-to-ground situations, allowing the placement of two 1000 pounds JDAMs. (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). In fact, testing allowed the F-22 to destroy a small moving target placed at long-rage when flying at Mach 1.4 and launching the bomb from an altitude of 50.000 feet.
The only words that can be said when looking at this project is that it has been completely successful, and even if from my very personal point of view I must agree that producing anything that destroys and kills is not within my philosophy, my engineering background makes me admire this great piece of work. Air superiority has moved one step forward.