Raptor ... or Turkey? (Part Four)

The vaunted Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor is less a nimble, sharp-eyed bird of prey than a sluggish, half-blind buzzard, according to noted fighter designer Pierre Sprey. He cites several figures to support to his claim:

* The F-22 has higher wing loading than the Boeing F-15A, meaning more weight on the wing and less maneuverability* The Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 50 with a General Electric 110 engine out-accelerates the F-22 with its two Pratt & Whitney 119s -- at any altitude* The F-22 has a lower thrust-to-weight ratio than the F-15A* The F-22 pilot's rearward and downward visibility is inferior to the F-16 pilot's
The result, Sprey contends, is that the F-22 will lose in dogfights against older, supposedly inferior aircraft.The fighter jocks of the first operational Raptor unit, the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, scoffed at the notion during my Aug. 10 visit.thrustvector.jpg"I don't know what people have been reading, but this thing is a monster," Brigadier General Burton Field said. "It's more maneuverable than anything out there.""We will turn inside anybody," Captain Phil Colomy seconded.Exercises have tended to corroborate these pilots' contentions. At Northern Edge in Alaska in June, the 27th Fighter Squadron's Raptors killed 108 F-15s and F-16s for no losses. In one four-hour engagement teaming F-22s and F-15s against other U.S. aircraft, the Raptor team killed 83 and lost just one Eagle.To explain this apparent disconnect between the Raptor's flight performance and its exercise results, Field and Colomy point to aspects of the F-22's design that Sprey ignores, such as:
* An advanced flight control system that renders smarter aircraft reactions to control inputs: The F-22, like the F-16, is an aerodynamically unstable aircraft that relies on computer systems to stabilize it in flight and translate pilot inputs into aircraft movements. The sophistication of the computer is a factor in the maneuverability of the aircraft.* Large control surfaces: The F-22 features some of the largest elevators, flaps, fins and stabilizers on any fighter aircraft ever built. The single-piece stabilizers are as large as an F-16's entire wing. Control-surface design is another key factor in maneuverability.* Thrust vectoring: The P&W-119s terminate in vertical thrust-vectoring nozzles that can direct 35,000 pounds of thrust apiece 20 degrees up or down, improving turning ability. Confronted with the criticism that these nozzles incur a weight and drag penalty, Colomoy laughed and pointed to a nearby F-15's large, unmoving nozzles. "You've got to have nozzles," he said. "The only difference with these is that they move." In other words, they're no heavier or draggier than any other nozzle.
The one criticism that the Raptor fliers can't counter is that the jet's canopy affords poorer visibility than the F-16's. It's true: the F-22's canopy is slightly obstructed by the intakes and the spine, but this flaw hasn't resulted in any lost dogfights in recent exercises.--David Axe
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