Mark Forest visits Edwards Air Force Base, California for AeroResource to interview Raptor test pilot Dan Yebanski and finds out how capable the F-22 really is.
Whilst on location, AeroResource were given the unique opportunity to photograph test pilots at work both on the ground and in the skies over Edwards. Plus the chance to see the newest member to the Edwards test fleet – the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
The 412th Test Wing (412 TW) is home to some of the United States Air Force’s top Test Pilots and navigators and also home to the Test Pilot School; where the Air Force’s top pilots, navigators and engineers learn how to collate data, perform flight test in simulators, ground testing and fly test missions on a wide variety of aircraft types.
The 412th Test Wing operates around 90 aircraft, with over 30 different aircraft variants. Throughout the year some 7000 – 8000 missions are flown of which nearly 2000 are test missions. They report on ground tests, flight-tests, software, simulations, weapons systems and aircraft components. The Wing has Test Squadrons assigned to it and they operate as part of the 412 Operations Group (412 OG) within this group there are 10 Flight Test Squadrons all operating many variants of modern aircraft.
Key Test Areas of Development in 2010
Sniper Pod Trials
Extremely High Frequency (EHF) satellite communications program (SATCOM)
X-51A Wave Rider scramjet launch bed
Bio fuel testing
Formation flight systems testing
Eight Bladed NP2000 propeller trials
Avionics Modernization Program (AMP)
In Flight F-35 (JSF) refuelling
Weapons system delivery (on loan from Eglin Test Facility)
Automatic Receiver Aircraft Identification aerial testing (RFID tags)
F-35 (JSF) Flight support and air start support.
Targeting pod systems (LITENING-AT)
Alternate jet engine fuel 50/50 mix JP-8 and natural gas based fuel
Supersonic bomb drop testing
Integrated flight-testing, barrier testing, airstart and noise testing
RQ-4 Global Hawk
Long flight duration testing, wet landing tests
Electrical testing, weapons systems testing, supersonic techniques, engineer training
F-22 Test pilot Dan Yebanski talks Stealth…
The team and I were granted a 30 minute interview with Dan Yebanski who flies the F-22A for the 412 Test Wing on Edwards AFB. Unfortunately at the time of the interview access was unavailable to the Raptor pans so the interview was conducted in the Air Force museum near to the West gate. His backdrop was the YF-22, which had arrived in the museum earlier this year.
Since the introduction of the YF-22 in the late 1980’s there has been some design changes from the test aircraft to the production F-22A. The angles on the leading edges have changed from 48 to 42 degrees; the cockpit has been moved forward by some 178mm and the engine intakes have been moved back by 356mm. All of which were no doubt improvements made from the expert feedback and data recovered by the test pilots.
The F-22A has 4 main characteristics:
The F-22 is a 5th generation air superiority fighter incorporating radar absorbent material (RAM), this shows a low radar cross section and coupled with the fact that everything in and on the aircraft including the pilots helmet has a low radar cross section it shows that the aircraft was designed with stealth as the main factor. Stealth technology makes it possible for the mighty Raptor to engage its opponent before they’re even aware of its presence, giving the pilots a major advantage over anything on the battlefield.
The F-22A has pitch axis thrust vectoring with +/- 60 degrees angle of attack. Two Pratt & Whitney Turbofans each engine delivering around 35,000 pounds of thrust. The thrust to weight ratio is 1:1 which gives it a greater climb ratio than the F-15 Eagle, giving the Raptor the capability to carry out stunning unrestricted climbs, in remarkable time. The aircraft is also rated up to +9 & -3 Gs.
The Raptor has a maximum altitude of over 60,000 feet. Its maximum speed with afterburner is around MACH 2 but the precise figure is classified. Due to removable stores being carried internally the drag is reduced which makes the aircraft more fuel-efficient. With so little drag the F-22A can sustain longer periods of super cruise, making the Raptor capable of travelling for longer periods at supersonic without the use of afterburners.
Dan believes this to be the most important part of the aircraft. In the battlefield first engagement scenario, when there are multiple good & bad guys both on the ground and in the air the data links provide clean average first positive enemy ID, with so many things happening at once it can be too much for the pilots brain to process all at once. The integrated avionics provides real time up to the second data. The avionics include BAE Systems E&IS radar warning receiver (RWR) AN/ALR-94, AN/AAR 56 Infra-Red and Ultra-Violet MAWS (Missile Approach Warning System), AN/APG-77 which is Northrop Grumman Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) this has low probability of interception and long-range target acquisition.
To conclude a very informative and relaxed interview with Dan we were allowed a few minutes taking photo’s of Dan in front of the YF-22. We must stress that through the interview the press officer did phone Dan just to ensure that nothing classified was mentioned, so to have any interview at all we must be grateful for. Straight away Dan was off as he was controlling all the afternoon & evening F-22 missions out of Edwards.
We would like to thank Edwards Public Affairs media team for making us most welcome throughout the day on base and the very friendly men and women aircrew from all areas of the Test Wing who gave us the opportunity to take some wonderful photographs whilst exploring their ramps, Dan for a second to none interview and to John H for finally allowing us to see and photograph the F-35A Lightning II – it was worth the wait.
Special credits must go to John Featherstone, Andrew Evans and Jason Grant for assisting with this article and allowing me to use their photographs from the day, thanks guys.