Military Aviation

F-22 Raptor that belly landed at NAS Fallon in 2018 is back flying again after 5-years of restoration

It was April 2018 when a failed takeoff at NAS Fallon, Nevada, left one of the 3rd Wing’s F-22 Raptors in critical condition. After the jet was brought back to JBER, tail number AF-07-146 spent nearly five years gearing up for a return to the skies.

It was April 2018 when a failed takeoff at Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon, Nevada, left one of the 3rd Wing’s F-22 Raptors in critical condition. After a team went to Fallon for the disassembly and transport of the jet back to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), tail number AF-07-146 spent nearly five years gearing up for a return to the skies.

As told by Airman 1st Class J. Michael Peña, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs, in the article F-22 Raptor rejoins fleet after five-year absence, after completion of the long rebuilding process, US Air Force (USAF) Lt. Col. Philip Johnson, a functional-check-flight pilot assigned to the 514th Flight Test Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, came to JBER to fly the newly restored aircraft May 4.

“They did a great job on the airplane,” said Johnson. “There were some minor maintenance notes found during the sortie, but those will be handled by maintenance. It’s good to go back to operational flying.”

US Air Force Lt. Col. Philip Johnson, a functional check flight pilot assigned to the 514th Flight Test Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, prepares to conduct a functional check flight at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 4, 2023. This functional check flight was the last test conducted over a five-year period to get tail number AF-07-146 operational after its crash at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, in 2018. The flight was successful and aircraft 146 returned to the operational fleet that same day.

Only 187 F-22 Raptors were produced, with the final jet leaving the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics assembly line in December 2011. Because of this, restoring tail number AF-07-146 to mission-capable status was imperative not only for the 3rd Wing but for the capabilities of the entire USAF.

“There are only so many F-22s in the inventory,” said USAF Chief Master Sgt. Adam Willeford, the 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron senior enlisted leader. “We have a really distinct and important mission when it comes to fifth-generation aircraft and the power we project. Every aircraft in the fleet is highly valuable for mission success, so returning this one to operational status is a big win for the team.”

In early 2022, USAF Tech. Sgt. Kyle Veurink, an F-22 craftsman assigned to the 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, joined the team of Airmen rebuilding aircraft 146, helping finish the final year of tests and repair

US Air Force Lt. Col. Philip Johnson, a functional check flight pilot assigned to the 514th Flight Test Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, prepares to conduct a functional check flight at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 4, 2023.

“When I joined the project last year, we were missing multiple flight controls,” Veurink said. “The engines and seat weren’t installed, and it had panels merging into fuel cells.”

In that same year, an F-22 at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, suffered a mishap when landing and had to undergo a similar rebuilding process to aircraft 146. Veurink’s team traveled to Eglin to turn the mishap into an opportunity and cannibalized parts such as the leading edge, two flaps and a seat off the Eglin F-22 Raptor.

Canning, short for cannibalizing, is a term that refers to taking usable parts from one aircraft for use on another, depending on various aircraft’s state of repair and the timeline for new manufactured parts to be completed. This method returns aircraft to combat-capable status sooner because it cuts down on time waiting for new parts to be manufactured.

Tail number AF-07-146, an F-22 Raptor assigned to the 3rd Wing, successfully takes off during its functional check flight at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 4, 2023.

Though the canning would extend the rebuilding period of Eglin’s aircraft, it allowed the 3rd Wing to accelerate the timeline for restoring aircraft 146, replenishing the amount of operational F-22s in the fleet at a faster pace.

Despite the extended period of repairs, aircraft 146 pushed through its final tests, undergoing rebalancing and burner runs leading up to its functional test flight.

As previously reported, the day of the accident F-22 AF-07-146’s pilot took off from Fallon for a Topgun graduation exercise. The pilot rotated the aircraft — bringing the nose up — at 120 knots and as the aircraft indicated its wheels were leaving the ground, the pilot retracted the landing gear. Immediately after landing gear retracted, the aircraft “settled” back on the runway with the doors fully closed.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-22A Raptor 192nd Fighter Wing, 149th Fighter Squadron, FF/04-4082 – Langley AFB, VA – 2014

With its tailhook bouncing off the ground, the F-22 slid about 6,514 feet until coming to a rest. Once it came to a stop, the pilot egressed the cockpit and there was no damage to other property.

The Accident Investigation Board found that the pilot had incorrect Takeoff and Landing Data for the conditions at Fallon — the pilot’s lineup card stated 136 knots indicated airspeed knots for rotation and 163 knots for full takeoff while that day’s conditions called for 143 knots for rotation and 164 knots for takeoff.

The investigation also found that the pilot prematurely retracted the landing gear and that day’s flight brief was inadequate.

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class J. Michael Peña / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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