The United States Air Force (USAF) managed to recover a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter that had been severely damaged during a unsuccessful takeoff five years ago.
The aircraft, tail number AF-07-146, suffered serious damage in an attempted takeoff on April 13, 2018, from Station Fallon Air Force Base in the state of Nevada.
An investigation into the incident found that the pilot of the fighter retracted the landing gear when the wheels were still on the runway during takeoff.
The aircraft, however, had not yet reached the minimum speed to take off and ended up dragging its belly along the ground for almost two kilometers. The aviator was not injured in the incident.
The USAF did not say how much it cost to recover the F-22, but it is known that the process was complex and extensive, even involving a C-5 Galaxy heavy freighter.
The fighter needed to be partially rebuilt and the search for parts was another challenge, as Lockheed Martin stopped producing components for the aircraft. Recovery of the F-22 was performed at Elmendorf-Richardson Air Force Base in Alaska, where the aircraft is based.
Only 187 F-22 produced
“They did a great job on the airplane,” said Johnson. “There were some minor maintenance notes found during the sortie, but those will be handled by maintenance. It’s good to go back to operational flying,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Philip Johnson, pilot who evaluated the recovered aircraft.
It took USAF airframe specialists 16 months to replace the entire underbody, fuselage stations and more than 40 electrical harnesses.
The actual reconstruction of the damaged fighter, using parts of decommissioned jets, only started in June 2021 and ended at the beginning of this year. The return of the plane to the skies took place on May 4th.
By USAF standards, the F-22 fleet is small. Lockheed Martin only produced 187 Raptors through 2011.
Although the most modern fighter aircraft in the US, the F-22 is expected to be retired within the next decade, giving way to more units of the veteran F-15 Eagle and possibly the country’s first sixth-generation fighters.