The morning of 2 May 2012 was a busy one at Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Georgia.
Inside the plant’s 3.4-million-square-foot B-1 production building, employees busily prepped for one of the largest events in the site’s history—the formal delivery ceremony of the last F-22 Raptor. But the scene outside the building was decidedly calmer, as the final F-22 Raptor, Air Force serial number 10-4195, sat perfectly positioned for its soon-to-be grand reveal.
The Raptor sat by itself for most of the morning, with only the eyes of Security and flightline employees on it. Every so often, a Lockheed Martin employee walked past the jet en route to other job duties. Several paused to take a look at this Raptor, putting their hands over their brows to block the sun. On this day, it was time to officially complete the Raptor fleet.
Over the last seventy years, the plant had seen its share of military aviation history. As the Bell Bomber plant in the early 1940s, B-29 Superfortress bombers rolled out of the building. Since 1951 when the site was reopened as the Lockheed-Georgia Company, the plant had produced every production C-130 Hercules, the C-141 StarLifter, C-5 Galaxy, JetStar, and the last new-build P-3 Orions in the US.
The C-130J Super Hercules production line and the P-3 Orion replacement wing line occupy the east end of B-1. The new F-35 Lightning II center wing assembly line takes up about half of the building’s west end.
Parallel to the F-35 line was a noticeably open, unused space—145,000 square feet to be exact. Until December 2011, this space was the site of the F-22 Raptor final production line. Here the jet’s center wing arrived for final assembly from Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The wings and the aft fuselage arrived for final assembly from Boeing; F119 engines arrived for final installation from Pratt & Whitney. From 1997 to 2012, Lockheed Martin built and delivered 195 Raptors to the US Air Force, which included nine test aircraft.
State-of-the-art tooling occupied the space, which required government clearance to enter. Now the last Conex containers holding the disassembled Raptor tooling await departure to the Sierra Army Depot in California where the fixtures and work stands will be stored. Every F-22 assembly process has also been videotaped, photographed, recorded, and stored.
On this day, that corner of B-1 was quiet. The only reminders of the F-22 legacy now in this space were a few Air Force/contractor team logos and operational squadron patch decals on the floor.
The scene was quite different at the other end of the B-1 production facility. More than 1,000 people had gathered there for the delivery ceremony.
US Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, and F-22 contractor team leaders saluted those who designed and built the Raptor. Isakson praised their commitment in creating the “finest weapons system known to mankind.”
“Nothing in the air beats the F-22,” Isakson continued. “When the F-35 is finished and flying in tandem with the F-22, the United States of America will be where it has always been—at the head of air superiority of any nation in the world.”
Robert J. Stevens, Lockheed Martin chairman and CEO, noted that the F-22 program had its share of challenges over the thirty years since the first study contracts for the Advanced Tactical Fighter were awarded. But the F-22 had overcome those challenges to create new standards in aviation and in global security.
“There is no longer any nation that wishes us ill or any adversary that wishes us harm that has any doubt that its actions will have consequences—that it will be held to account and that our nation’s response will be undeterred,” Stevens said. “The very existence of this airplane—your airplane—has altered the strategic landscape forever.”
The F-22 provides a broader U.S. military portfolio where it will “clearly play a starring role,” Schwartz said. “The delivery represents an important element in our overall modernization effort. We continue to focus on ensuring that these capabilities will help shape the future security environment, not just respond to it.”
A ceremonial key was then presented from the contractor team to the Air Force. The key was passed from Schwartz to Lt. Col. Paul Moga, commander of the 525th Fighter Squadron at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to SSgt. Damon Crawford, the dedicated crew chief for Raptor 4195 at Elmendorf, the aircraft’s new home.
A dramatic reveal of the last Raptor concluded the event. The immense metal doors of the B-1 building were raised to make public the sleek jet that had rolled off the F-22 assembly line at the opposite end of the building in December 2011.
Audience members swarmed around the aircraft after the ceremony. For some in the audience, it was the first time they had been near a completed F-22. Members of the local media filmed live feeds for noon newscast.
Work called most of the crowd away. Soon the sound of riveting from the P-3 and C-130 lines punctured the air while crews dismantled the ceremony setup.
Three days later, Moga taxied Raptor 4195 from the Lockheed Martin flightline to the adjoining Dobbins ARB runway. The last Raptor was joined by Raptor 4193, which was also destined for operations in Alaska.
Raptors are assigned to seven bases in the United States. Continued flight testing takes place at Edwards AFB, California. Operational tactics development continues at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Pilot training takes place at Tyndall AFB, Florida, which in 2013 will also be home to a combat-ready Raptor squadron. In addition to Elmendorf, operational F-22s are also assigned to JB Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Holloman AFB, New Mexico; and JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
Moga has a long history with the F-22 as he was one of the first thirteen pilots accepted into the F-22A program as the initial Formal Training Unit, or FTU, instructor pilot cadre. He was also the first Air Combat Command F-22 demonstration pilot.
A few hours after takeoff, Raptor 4195 landed Code One at the base near Anchorage. Moga’s family greeted him on the flightline, while Air Force personnel welcomed the Raptor 195 to its new home. The Raptor fleet was complete.