Some pretty interesting photos show at least one Raptor with dust/sand deposits on most of its top surfaces.
A dozen US Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, deployed to the United Arab Emirates last month. The plane made a stopover in Spain, at Moron Air Base and finally arrived at its final destination, Al Dhafra, on February 12, 2022.
The deployment of a squadron of F-22s to the Middle East was announced days earlier when General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), announced that the United States would deploy the aircraft from 5th generation in the United Arab Emirates to help defend the country against Houthi terrorist strikes.
Some photographs of the Raptors at work in the CENTCOM AOR (area of responsibility) have been released from time to time over the past few weeks, but those recently posted to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service website of the Pentagon, or DVIDS. reveal the effect of a single month in the “sandbox” on the 5th generation aircraft.
The photos, taken by Staff Sgt. Stefan Alvarez aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker March 9, 2022 shows a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor pilot assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing during an in-flight refueling as part of the OAS II (Operation Agile Spartan II) somewhere over Southwest Asia.
A very dusty Raptor.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing approaches a KC-135 over Southwest Asia March 9. The F-22s participated in Operation Agile Spartan II and conducted agile combat employment concepts throughout the Central Command area of responsibility. pic.twitter.com/UDO2egXk8r
— Ryan Chan 陳家翹 (@ryankakiuchan) March 14, 2022
As seen in the images, the silver skin of the first US Air Force fighter appears to be heavily covered in dust/sand deposits on most of the aircraft’s upper surfaces. Although some photographs have shown the extent of weathering on the F-22’s precious radar-absorbing skin in the past, we’ve never seen so much dust build up on the jet’s skin to be clearly visible to the naked eye. .
We can’t tell from the photographs if the sand/dust could have eroded the F-22’s coating, but we’re pretty sure those particles aren’t too good for the stealth plane’s delicate skin.
“The aircraft’s external molding line is a mosaic of radar-absorbing coatings and transparent, anti-radar composite structures that combine to allow the Raptor to remain aerodynamically efficient while being largely invisible to fire control radars. . All of this takes a parcel to maintain and many of these applications begin to break down soon after application, with the friction of high-speed flight, crushing G-forces and the elements accelerating this process. As such, one of the most expensive aspects of operating the F-22 – and flying this aircraft is extremely expensive with an average cost per flight hour of around $60,000 – is keeping its stealth skin to match,” wrote Tyler Rogoway in an article about the extreme signs of corrosion shown by a Raptor published by The war zone in 2019.
“For aircraft that aren’t heading into high-end combat or training scenarios, maintaining the jet’s stealth skin isn’t as high a priority. There are different preparation standards for F-22 skins to meet depending on the situation, with its effectiveness slipping by a certain percentage before requiring a time-consuming reapplication.
In this case, the aircraft were actually operating from a forward operating location where they deployed on short notice to perform deterrence missions, however, given the posture at the time the photos were taken, it seems quite likely that LO (Low Observability) was not a requirement for the jet, meaning it could still fly safely without going through the process of cleaning or (if necessary) repairing.
According to the US Air Force, the F-22 Raptors deployed to Al Dhafra, participated in Operation Agile Spartan II and conducted agile combat employment concepts throughout the US Central Command area of responsibility, which showed the flexibility of the US Air Force to operate from any location in a contested environment.
BTW, dealing with F-22 coatings, we have already reported a bit of a mystery topic First F-22 from Nellis Air Force Base filmed on November 19, 2021with a “mirror” coating, never seen before on a Raptor. As we explained, the reflective metallic coating appears to cover most of the outer “skin” of the aircraft, leaving very obvious panel lines, including some jagged ones above and to the sides of the fuselage (typical of stealth aircraft), as well as some unusual curvilinear (on the wings in the flap area). The reason for the so-called “Chrome” or “Mirror-like” coating, is probably related to certain test activities, on IRST (Infra Red Search & Track) technologies, targeting systems or laser weapons and countermeasures.