Making its first-ever appearance in the Middle East, the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor is flying over each day from Al Dhafra airbase, Abu Dhabi, for its 14-minute display slot. Major Dave “Zeke” Skalicky is showing off America’s top-of-the-line stealth fighter with a serious of gravity-defying maneuvers.
But everything you see in the F-22 demonstration is applicable to real air combat, according to Col. Dirk Smith, operations group commander for the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing. “The F-22 has a huge advantage over other fighters, thanks to the combination of thrust-vectoring [TV] and the very sophisticated flying control system [FCS],” he told AIN.
But some veteran airshow-goers say that energy is the key to air combat, and that the kind of slow-down, stop-and-reverse flying that Skalicky performs here would never work in real-life situations. Not so, said Smith. “It’s all about the trade-offs between kinetic and potential energy,” he noted. And some of the maneuvers find new ways to achieve that age-old fighter pilot’s aim, namely, to get onto the opposing pilot’s tail.
This F-22 demo opens with a max-power climb, using the 70,000 pounds thrust conferred by two Pratt & Whitney F119 afterburning turbofans. There follows a minimum-radius horizontal turn, a 360-degree aileron roll and the signature 360-degree flat turn. Then comes the “pedal turn,” with the jet’s TV and FCS responding to stick and pedal inputs to flip backward at altitude and level off, then do a 180-degree flat turn to the left and then reverse to the same. The F-22 looks out of control, but it isn’t. Then there’s a “power loop” and the inevitable tail slide, followed by a slow pass at a gravity-defying 75 knots IAS. Smith further noted that the F-22 takes off for this display with a full fuel load.
Two key features of the F-22 cannot be demonstrated here. One is the ability to “supercruise,” that is, to fly supersonically out of afterburner. The fastest that the jet is allowed to fly in air displays is Mach 0.9. The second feature is, of course, the stealthiness of the airframe, which shortens the detection range by opposing airborne or ground-based radars to a tactically insignificant amount. The U.S. Air Force closely guards the F-22 fleet, which is probably why Dubai Airshow-goers must view the fighter in the static park from a distance.