The F-22 Raptor was born out of the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) demonstration and validation program to develop a next-generation air superiority fighter to counter emerging worldwide threats. It is the newest fighter aircraft of the United States Air Force (USAF). Though originally an air superiority fighter for use against the Soviet Air Force, it is also capable of ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence roles. The F-22 is a combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, integrated avionics and improved supportability. It performs both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, making it vital to the USAF. The Raptor is capable of providing first-kill opportunities against threats. Its sophisticated aerodesign, advanced flight controls, thrust vectoring and high thrust-to-weight ratio provide the capability to outmaneuver all current and projected aircraft. Intended to be the leading American advanced tactical fighter in the early part of the 21st century, the Raptor is the worlds most expensive fighter to date.
In 1981, the Air Force put out a requirement for a new air superiority fighter that would replace the capability of the F-15 Eagle, incorporating emerging technologies such as advanced alloys, fly-by-wire flight control systems and stealth technology. In October 1986, two contractor teams, Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics and Northrop/McDonnell Douglas, were selected to build prototypes. In August 1991, after a fly-off competition, Lockheeds YF-22 was declared the winner and the company was awarded the contract to produce the ATF.
In April 1992, during flight testing, the first YF-22 prototype crashed while landing. The test pilot was able to escape uninjured. When the first production model was unveiled, the plane was formally named F-22 Raptor. The F-22s maiden flight was on September 7, 1997. In September 2002, USAF leaders gave the redesignation F/A-22, but on December 12, 2005, it was changed back to F-22. On December 15, 2005, the Raptor entered service. Air Education and Training Command and Air Combat Command are the primary Air Force organizations operating the aircraft. In 2006, the Raptors development team won the Collier Trophy, the most prestigious American aviation award. There are currently 91 F-22s in active service.