Fighter jets based on the legendary F-22 that never took to the skies

  • The stealth, speed, maneuverability and situational awareness of the F-22 have earned it a reputation as the world’s best air superiority fighter.
  • Due to its capabilities, the F-22 has been the basis for a variety of aircraft over the years, but many of them never got off the ground or even off the drawing board.

Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor is widely touted as the most capable of all air superiority fighters in the world, thanks to its combination of stealth, speed, maneuverability and situational awareness.

So it seems quite logical that this legendary platform has been the basis for more than one proposal for the development of new derivative aircraft for tasks outside the role of air superiority.

Some platforms never came to fruition because there was no pressing need for the capabilities they offered or because cheaper alternatives were better suited to a program’s financial constraints, but there’s another important element to consider when going through this list with layoffs.

America fought a war on multiple fronts against adversaries with no serious air defense capabilities and no real air force to speak of, so advanced stealth platforms based on the world’s most capable and expensive air superiority fighter just didn’t seem like a wise use of a significant chunk of the defense budget at the time.

F 22

An F-22 Raptor at an air show in Santiago, Chile, April 7, 2018.

Air Force/Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois

Of course, as the powers of the world turn toward competition between great powers, it’s fair to say that some of these planes offered capabilities that the United States could really use in its hangars, in the event of such a high end combat.

None of these platforms are likely to be mothballed, but for the same reasons, the F-22 program itself won’t be; because it’s been decades since the F-22 first took to the skies, and today it would probably be just as pricey or possibly cheaper to buy a better planes from scratch. That’s just how technology rolls.

So while some of these F-22 iterations or derivatives may be better than the platforms currently filling those places on Uncle Sam’s fighter roster, it’s important to remember that the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program is already moving full steam ahead. is, and if it lives up to the hype, it should leave the F-22, as well as its hypothetical counterparts on this list, in the dust.

The FB-22: The F-22 as a bomber

F-22 Internal Weapons Bay Rocket

An Air Force maintainer checks the internal weapons bay of an F-22 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Aug. 10, 2020.

United States Air Force/Samuel King Jr.

The FB-22 stealth bomber is said to have shared some components with its fighter counterpart, although it would have added significant range and payload, as well as a second crew member, at the cost of some of the legendary platform’s aerobatic feats.

The aim was to meet the Air Force’s need for a regional or medium-range bomber that could bridge the capacity gap between air-to-ground combat aircraft operations and long-range heavy payload bombers.

The FB-22 used large delta-shaped wings that dramatically increased lift and fuel capacity while providing more ammunition space in an enlarged internal cargo hold and detachable stealth ammunition pods.

If put into production, the FB-22 could have been the most stealthy fighter-bomber in the world, and the only supersonic stealth bomber ever to enlist for any country. But it might be more appropriate to think of it in some ways as a nondescript replacement for the F-15E Strike Eagle.

The effort came to an end in 2006 amid budget cuts caused by the global war on terror.

You can read more about the FB-22 effort and eventual firing here in our full article on the subject.

NATF-22: The F-22 for carrier duty

F-14 Tomcat Variable Swing Wings

An F-14 Tomcat during flight testing.

US Navy/San Diego Air and Space Museum

As the F-22 program matured, it impressed many people, including members of Congress, who urged the Navy to consider a major version of the new fighter under the NATF (Naval Advanced) program. Tactical Fighter), which began in 1988. .

To make the F-22 suitable for carrier duty, Lockheed Martin would have had to make a number of important changes to the design of the F-22.

In addition to the usual changes one would expect from a carrier-capable aircraft (things like a reinforced fuselage and added tail hook), a naval variant of the F-22 would have incorporated a variable wing design similar to that used by the Navy. existing F-14 Tomcats.

This addition, perhaps more than any other, would have been a real challenge for engineers to deal with. Sweep wings were expensive to maintain in the beginning, but incorporating a sweep wing design into a stealth aircraft may have been nearly impossible without sacrificing some degree of low observability.

You can learn more about the NATF-22 program in our full feature here.

The F-22B: Flying the Raptor with a Friend

Air Force Pilots in F-15E Cockpit

Lieutenant Colonel Robert “The Dude” Bird and Maj. Andrew “Dice” Morton in an F-15E at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, December 3, 2021.

United States Air Force/Michael J. Hasenauer

Before the first Raptor fled, the Air Force was not looking for only a single seater. In fact, the prototype order issued by the Air Force to Lockheed Martin called for seven single-seat iterations of the aircraft to be tested (F-22As) and two twin-seat F-22Bs.

There are a number of reasons to build a fighter plane with room for a second occupant, from training pilots to balancing the mental load of extensive and advanced combat operations.

Like the F-14 Tomcat, F-15E Strike Eagle and many other twin-seat fighters, the rear operator can track enemy targets and friendly aircraft, increase situational awareness, execute electronic warfare suites and countermeasures, and generally allow the pilot to ​to focus On flying.

The two-seat F-22B never went into production, but if it had, it might have made the air superiority fighter a more promising option as a medium-range bomber or better suited to the attack role that fighters have aboard aircraft carriers. often have. to fill.

There might be a whole lot in that second ejection seat that never made its way to the Raptor.

The X-44 Manta: Taking the F-22’s Thrust Control to the Next Level

F-22 Thrust Control Engine

An F-22 performs a tactical pitch and uses its thrust vectoring nozzles to turn quickly, July 31, 2021.

US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Don Hudson

Way back in 1999, Lockheed Martin had a plan to use a delta-shaped stealth fighter that skipped the need for a conventional tail section, in the F-22-based X-44 Manta. However, this program was not focused on active service, but rather on producing a viable technology demonstrator.

Rather than using a conventional tail section with both vertical and horizontal control surfaces, the Manta was intended to take advantage of thrust vector control, or direct the flow of thrust from the engine alone, to give the aircraft the aerobatic capabilities it would need. have in a high-end dogfight.

Today, some (including this author) have questioned whether elements of the X-44 Manta program made their way into the development of the NGAD fighter. Time will tell.

You can read more about the X-44 and its thrust vectoring capabilities in our full article on the aircraft here.

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