It’s official: The United States Air Force has certified the world’s only “fifth generation” fighter jet as operationally ready. The Lockheed Martin F-22 combines supersonic speed (including supersonic cruise without afterburner) with stealth and advanced targeting, weaponry and defense capabilities to make it hands down the most advanced fighter jet on the planet. With plans to field 183 Raptors in all, the Air Force has already begun to fly operational missions with the jet, including homeland defense missions, so you might see one any day now.
It wasn’t a short gestation period for the world’s best air superiority fighter. The need for a jet like the F-22 to replace the F-15 was first officially voiced by the Air Force in the early 1980s. But the first flight of the prototype YF-22 didn’t take place until 1990, while the first supersonic flight wouldn’t occur for another seven years.
While much of its performance remains classified, according to some reports, in aerial combat tests against F-15s and other frontline U.S. fighters, the F-22 had a near perfect “kill record” and was never picked up by its foes’ radar during mock combat flights. Such capabilities come at a price, though: The cost of each F-22, by some estimates, is around $125 million.