Last December, the final production F-22, tail number 4195, rolled off the line in Georgia and entered a lengthy test program.

The flight home

Last week, on the second of May, testing was completed and the aircraft was accepted by the Air Force during a ceremony at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. After the ceremony, it flew across the country to its new home, Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, where it touched down on the 5th. It is the 195th aircraft produced, and one of 185 operational F-22s in the Air Force’s arsenal.

I found some raw footage of the arrival on Youtube and was surprised to see a familiar face at the end. It turns out that Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Moga, who is 525th Fighter Squadron commander, made the non-stop flight and will operate the jet as the squadron’s flagship. If, like me, you’ve seen the shows Showdown:Air Combat or Great Planes, you may recognize Moga as the host.

The non-stop flight from Georgia to Alaska took 8 hours and featured two aerial refuels courtesy of KC-135s from MacDill and McConnell. It was a flight of two, tail numbers 4195 and 4193, which according to Moga was “Flawless…literally no problems.” Moga’s statement was given in response to questions about the flight, which may have been nothing more than routine, but were more likely born out of recent reports regarding the F-22.

Troubles with the F-22

The F-22 has its share of problems, a high accident rate and several groundings have left a black mark on an otherwise spectacular plane. Latest reports have been that some pilots are refusing to fly F-22s until the mysterious issues with the oxygen generation system are fixed. I hope the Air Force gets their money’s worth out of the contract with Lockheed and the problem is solved. The F-22 is too expensive and too awesome an aircraft to go down in history as a failure.

While it seems certain that the oxygen system in the F-22 is severely crippled, no one seems to know what exactly the problem is. In fact, the Air Force apparently isn’t confident whether the issue is lack of oxygen or contaminated oxygen. At least one of the stop gaps was a resounding failure, causing the pilots more trouble than the hypoxia they might get normally. For now the Air Force seems to be sticking with increased physiological monitoring and supplemental oxygen systems.

Why an F-22 is worth almost half a billion dollars

According to GAO estimates, each F-22 costs taxpayers $412 million. If the Air Force can divine the cause of the oxygen system troubles and fix them, I contend that an F-22 is well worth the price. Its fifth generation status, including low-maintenance stealth coatings and insane radar capabilities, make it a huge boon for air superiority. It can track multiple targets and destroy them well before they can even see the F-22.

Additionally, the F-22 is capable of super cruising at nearly mach 2, mach 1.82 to be exact, and at full tilt, with both afterburners burning it can exceed mach 2.2. This alone makes the F-22 pretty spectacular, but the real benefit is the vectored thrust, which allows the F-22 to perform some pretty unique stunts. In all, the F-22 has great speed, range, and maneuverability that put it on top of the pile when it comes to fighter jets.

While 412 million seems like a big number, the truth is increased production numbers could drive this number way down. As it is, export of F-22s is banned and, with only 195 production aircraft, the Air Force isn’t spreading the development costs out very much and they’re, or rather we’re, footing the entire bill. The actual price tag for an F-22 is closer to 150 million with the huge cost of development making up the other almost 300 million. That said, it is unlikely that the Air Force will restart production given the introduction of the F-35 and a no significant F-22 deployments in its 7 year operational history.

A small gallery of F-22 photos for your viewing pleasure