More than a year after its landing gear collapsed on the flight line at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, an F-22 Raptor took to the skies for the first time last month thanks to Virginia Air National Guard maintainers.
Airmen from the 192nd Maintenance Group were able to get the fifth-generation jet, tail number 85, up and running for its first flight back April 9, according to a news release.
On Jan. 16, 2020, the base announced that there had been an incident involving an F-22 following a routine training flight. Though the pilot was taken to the Langley Air Force Base Hospital for evaluation, there were no injuries.
According to the recent release, the Raptor skidded across the runway on landing. Maintenance airmen reported hearing an "unnerving sound as it came to a screeching stop on its right wing that day," it states.
"As soon as it touched down and collapsed, I was in shock," Master Sgt. Christopher Plath, flight chief in the 192nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said in the release. "We kind of just stood there staring at it, praying the canopy is going to open up and the pilot is going to get out."
Active-duty maintainers from the 1st Fighter Wing began the repair mission, until they were called for a deployment, the release states. The jet was then turned over to Plath and members of the 192nd in December 2020 to oversee the rebuild, which included a new landing gear, flight control surface for the right wing and a new wing tip.
Plath and his team ordered parts and assembled experts to get the F-22 operational again.
The Guardsmen consulted with engineers from Lockheed Martin, the jet's maker; listened for rattling or any type of drag on the brakes while it taxied on the runway; and brought it to the base's "Hush House," a specialized soundproof facility where fighter engines can operate at full throttle indoors to "induce any possible points of failure," the release states.
The team included Staff Sgt. Drevonte Swain and Senior Airman Ethan Martin, who were in charge of repairing the low-observable outer stealth coating; Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Carpenter and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Potter, who inspected and ensured the main weapons-bay door was operational; Staff Sgt. Lauren Hayes, who checked over the aircraft's integrated systems; and Tech. Sgt. Eric Talman and Staff Sgt. James Sheaves Jr., who, along with Plath, were in charge of the overall maintenance and repairs as crew chiefs, the Air Force said.
Maj. Daniel "Honcho" Thompson, an F-22 pilot from the 149th Fighter Squadron, flew the aircraft and was able to land it safely.
Officials did not disclose why it took more than 15 months to complete the F-22's repairs.
In one case, an F-22 was shelved in 2012 when it needed costly upgrades; Air Force officials made the decision to put it in storage before returning it to service in 2018.
Delaying maintenance for years underscores the unwieldy cost of U.S. 5th-generation fighters, even as the military may be considering a successor to the F-22 and even the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, two of the most advanced jet fighters in the American inventory. The unit cost for the F-22 was around $150 million in 2009, but some estimates put the per-plane cost at closer to $250 million in current dollars.
It's not the only time there has been an issue with the F-22's landing gear. Earlier this year, a jet from the 325th Fighter Wing, assigned to Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base, experienced an "in-flight emergency," landing at nearby Eglin Air Force Base, where it ended up nose down on its belly.
The cause of that mishap is under investigation.