The F-22 Raptor is known for its stealth capabilities worldwide. Years before its introduction into service, adversaries were already clamoring to develop radar defenses able to see it. Even in 2019 it remains as elusive as it is awesome. Below we’ll take a look at the F-22’s radar cross-section, and how its able to slip through air defenses undetected.
F-22 Radar Cross Section
The Raptor’s stealth capabilities largely come down to two main features of the aircraft, its shape and its external coatings. Stealth aircraft are designed specifically to deflect radar waves, ensuring they don’t return back to any tracking equipment and give away the jet’s position.
The results of this characteristic are apparent all over the exterior of the F-22. Most noticeably it can be seen in the wedge-shape of its fuselage and nosecone. While most aircraft are round, even legacy jet fighters, the F-22 has a distinct “top” and “bottom” all the way from its nose back to the engine exhaust. Round objects reflect radar waves evenly in all directions, making it easy for air defenses to pick up on their presence. The Raptor, on the other hand, deflects the waves away in strategic angles, making it much harder to detect.
Aside from the shape of the fighter, the F-22 also relies on its exterior coatings to reduce its radar signature. Typical aircraft paint over an aluminum frame is a great reflector of radar waves. Because of this the Raptor is instead coated with a Top Secret material that absorbs radar waves rather than reflecting them. The difference in these two approaches can be staggering. Imagine trying to find two objects at night in a field with a flashlight. One is a mirror, and the other is a chalkboard. That’s why stealth capabilities are so important.
For the F-22, this all comes together to create a staggering result. When modern air defenses attempt to search for a Raptor in the night sky, the radar cross-section they see is about the size of a bumble bee.
That’s one mean and dangerous bumble bee.
When you consider the value of the aircraft and everything in it, the value of the mission, and the value of America’s increased influence on the world stage, it becomes incredibly apparent why stealth is critical in military aviation.