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Flying in Under the Radar
Airman 1st Class Emmanuel Marioni, 3rd Maintenance Squadron, inspects the skin of a 3rd Wing F-22 Raptor at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Sept. 28, 2012. Marioni is a low observable technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Joan King)
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F-22's success aided by Low Observable

Posted 11/23/2012   Updated 11/29/2012 Email story   Print story

    


by Senior Airman Joan King
3rd Maintenance Group


11/23/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Many are surprised to discover that the largest organ the human body has is the skin. Skin provides a physical barrier against harmful, external factors. The F-22 Raptor, much like the human body, has a layer of skin called low observable.

LO not only assists in retaining the jets' stealth capabilities but also prevents corrosion and other damages. Like human skin, the F-22's coating consists of several layers. The surface of the F-22 appears to be a simple gray paint, but in reality the high-tech surface renders one of the largest fighter jets virtually undetectable by radar.

"Arguably the most important capability of a fifth generation fighter, like the Raptor, is what low observable delivers - the stealth," said Air Force Maj. Patrick Pearson, a 3rd Wing F-22 pilot.

The benefits of stealth technology may escape some in terms of air combat. The ability of the F-22 to prosecute a lethal attack while remaining undetected is why it has the highest air-to-air kill ratio of any other fighter in simulated combat. While incredible lethality has defined F-22 tactics, the aircraft has also become known for its unmatched survivability.

"Survivability is the biggest [factor], so the jet and the pilot can come back," said Airman 1st Class Emmanuel Marioni, 3rd Maintenance Squadron LO technician.

Lethality and survivability are critical issues for the men and women in the LO shop, comprised of active duty Airmen from the 3rd Maintenance Squadron and reservists from the 477th Maintenance Squadron. Their daily work readies F-22 pilots to defeat the most advanced adversarial aircraft and surface to air missile systems.

Once a week, the LO shop conducts outer mold line inspections on the Raptor. All the information is placed into a database that rates its stealth capability, called a signature assessment system.

"The lower the SAS rating, the stealthier a jet is," said Senior Master Sergeant Dave Strunk, 477th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight chief.

LO application falls into two areas - the removal of coatings to facilitate other maintenance and the removal and replacement to bring the SAS rating down. The job of an LO technician can be a challenging one requiring a high level of attention to detail and adherence to safety precautions.

"We are working all day every day," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Duque, 477th Maintenance Squadron LO technician. "We have 24/7 coverage to ensure a steady flow of progress from the start of a repair to finish. Our accurate cataloging of damages and sound repairs ensure that the aircraft is performing as designed."

The skin from the body can be taken for granted until it is damaged. The behind-the-scenes efforts of the men and women of the 3rd Maintenance Squadron and the 477th Maintenance Squadron keep the Raptor at the top of its game.

"The constant attention to detail and upkeep from our LO section is essential to projecting the F-22's combat capability," Pearson said. "Knowing that our jets are fully ready to go gives me the confidence I need to get the job done."

With reporting from Air Force Capt. Ashley Conner, 477th Fighter Group Public Affairs.



tabComments
12/4/2012 6:14:58 PM ET
I guess if we keep selling aircraft to other countries then we may someday have a use for the F-22. Otherwise I'd have to agree with Arnie. It's kind of a waste. And it kills the pilots. But that's not LO's fault. Good job LO. Hopefully all your hard work will not be in vain.
Beck, JBER
 
11/30/2012 2:49:17 PM ET
Arnie in MD try saying that in Chinese
Jon, Oklahoma City Ok.
 
11/30/2012 12:28:31 PM ET
Kudos to the professionals in the Maintenance Group for their hard work. For those interested in one perspective on the F-22 value the latest Air and Space Power Journal had an interesting article. A critical argument is the F-22 has limited investment in recapitilization efforts needed for today's and possibly future fights. And it notes limitations of the platform are its range and high maintenance requirements for its stealth capability. And while the F-22 is superior in air-to-air roles it falls short in air-to-ground in many scenarios like those in OEF and OIF for close air support. Only time will tell if the AF put too many eggs in one basket. Regardless of that debate it's great to hear the maintenance professional's hard work and dedication.
JT, Maxwell AFB
 
11/30/2012 8:38:23 AM ET
A few years back I was pervi to seeing an aircraft being preped to enter the National Air Force Museum and after asking I was surprised to being told they had to strip the LO from any aircraft being placed on display at the museum because they have found visitors chipping at the coating of displayed aircraft hoping to capture some of the LO. So any aircraft that is now on display has ordinary house paint on them to protect our LO Technology which is a good thing to do. As to the value of the F22 if needed it will be there. Our boarders are safer because of it.
SNCO Ret 89, SW Ohio
 
11/29/2012 9:09:39 AM ET
I don't think I or anyone for that matter would use the term successful when describing the F-22.The only thing this aircraft is proficient at doing is wasting our tax-payer dollars.
Arnie, MD
 
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