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Raptor redefines maneuverability

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- "Turning on a dime" brings to mind images of a split-second change of direction. Imagine doing that in a jet hurtling through the sky. That is the F-22 Raptor.

The F-22 design, with its stealth, supercruise and integrated avionics, provides a high degree of assurance that a "dogfight" will not be the typical experience for combat air force pilots.

If close air-to-air combat ever becomes necessary, the Raptor's enhanced maneuverability will be a positive factor for the pilot.

"The preferred solution is first look, first shot, first kill," said Jeff Harris, a Lockheed Martin lead engineer. "But from a flying-quality perspective, we designed the F-22 to be a lethal fighter even close-in and give pilots maximum maneuverability."

The key to the F-22's ability to maneuver better than conventional fighters is a system called thrust vectoring. Thrust vectoring is controlled by the pilot through the flight controls and gets the F-22 quickly from one maneuver to another. The thrust vectoring nozzles on the two engines are controlled by the same flight control system that operates the horizontal tails, rudders and wing surfaces.

"It's the ability for a pilot to point the nose wherever he wants in a much larger envelope, all the way to zero air speed," Harris said. "Thrust vectoring harnesses the power from the rear of the jet by using the thrust vectoring nozzles and opens the envelope where other fighters would stall."

For the most part, the enhanced maneuverability features of the F-22 are transparent to the pilot. The aircraft controls are designed much like any conventional fighter with the thrust vectoring nozzles factored in for additional maneuver capability.

"The most obvious (difference from other jets) is the slow speed, high angle of attack region where the F-22 is still completely controllable while an F-16 (Fighting Falcon) or F-15 (Eagle) is completely uncontrollable," said Bret Luedke, F-22 chief test pilot for the combined test force at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. He has been a test pilot for 13 years and has more than 150 hours in the F-22.

"The large control surfaces and the thrust vectoring capability of the aircraft give us maneuverability and control in areas where other aircraft don't dare go," Luedke said. "It's kind of like comparing the capabilities of a Formula 1 race car with those of a (Volkswagen) van while driving on a road race course."

Thrust vectoring maneuverability, once reserved only for test pilots, will now be available to the combat air forces, Harris said.

"This feature has been used in other developmental programs, but it's the first time it's been incorporated into production design," he said.

Combined with the other unique design elements of the F-22 -- stealth, supercruise and integrated avionics -- it transforms air superiority into air dominance.

"From the pilot's perspective, they will give the Raptor pilots the element of surprise and allow them to pick and choose the fights with significant tactical advantage," Luedke said. (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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