Raptor Futures

The Air Force could keep flying F-22 Raptors to nearly 2060, based on current usage and assuming the service keeps flying them until the very last hour of service life is exhausted. The F-22 was designed for a service life of 8,000 hours, and the structural retrofit plan now in progress is meant to ensure it gets there, according to information provided by USAF in response to a query from Air Force Magazine. Annual usage is expected to be about 225 hours per airplane, and 32,500 annual fleet hours. “There is no program of record” to go beyond 8,000 equivalent flying hours, an Air Force spokeswoman said, and assuming attrition of about one airplane per year—typical for USAF planning and about twice the actual F-22 loss rate to date—the last jet would age-out in mid-2059. However, USAF will be down to just two squadrons’ worth of Raptors in about 2053, and it may stop flying them well before that point, if logistics costs outweigh the operational utility of such a small number. The F-22 tooling was stored at the program’s termination, and could be reactivated. The “life-limiting structure” on the jet is the “lower centerline of Frame 4 on the aft fuselage,” the spokeswoman said. While USAF has not set a date for an F-22 replacement, the Air Dominance 2030 study, now underway, will characterize the air dominance solution for the 2030s and beyond. (See also The Last Raptor from the February 2012 issue of Air Force Magazine.)