February 24, 2009 (by MSgt. Kevin Gruenwald) - A specialized polycarbonate is the main element that separates an F-22 Raptor pilot from threatening and compromising conditions like lightening strikes, blinding sun rays, and the formidable, unpredictable bird strikes.
SSgt. Terry Vickery, SSgt. Tim Sullivan and SrA. Ryan Ott install an F-22 Raptor canopy using an east-west hoist on February 18th, 2009 at Andersen AFB. The Raptors are deployed from Elmendorf AFB, to Guam for three months as the Pacific's Theater Security Package. All are F-22 Egress and Systems specialists deployed from Elmendorf and assigned to the 36th EAMXS.
It's one of the jobs of an Air Force egress technician to ensure the canopy components are installed properly and flawlessly operating.
The Raptor canopy is designed to give the pilot an unprecedented high-tech workspace that ensures aerial dominance. It is designed to withstand and flex against force to prevent a shattering effect that could be catastrophic when engaged in high performance flying. It's resistant to chemical, biological, and environmental agents, and has been successfully tested to withstand the impact of a four-pound bird at 350 knots. It is also one of the very first "all-glass" cockpits for tactical fighters in the U.S Air Force.
"The F-22 canopy is an integral part of the F-22 system and an engineering marvel, said Lt. Col Orlando Sanchez, 90th Fighter Squadron commander, it contributes to stealth design while at the same time provides excellent visibility and performance at supersonic speeds and high g-force conditions."
But from time to time, the state of the art canopies need to be replaced.
"We have changed out multiple canopies during this deployment" said, Staff Sgt. Vickery, 36th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron egress technician deployed with a contingent of F-22 from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. "At the first sign of a stressed canopy we move forward with change out procedures."
While deployed, the change of climate takes its toll on the protective covering. Stress signatures like cracks, small tears and composite degrading are all common warning factors.
"I think the temperature and humidity is one of the biggest factors causing the damage to the canopies," said Sergeant Vickery. "We don't normally go through canopies this fast back home."
Though a very important maintenance procedure, the Egress, Specialists Metals Tech, and Low Observable shops can complete the canopy switch out and have the jet ready to fly again in approximately two days.
The cutting edge Raptor canopy is also the first "night vision goggle" compatible cockpit, and is designed for helmet-mounted systems. The canopy is the largest piece of polycarbonate formed in the world with the largest Zone 1 (highest quality) optics for compatibility with helmet-mounted systems.
"We (Egress) only deal with canopies on the F-16 and the F-22. I think they are pretty similar as far as maintenance goes, but the maintenance on the F-22 seems to be a lot more time consuming and you have to be a little more careful with the F-22 due to the stealth material on the jet," said Sergeant Vickery.
Although challenging and work extensive, it is a very rewarding job. "The best part of being an egress technician is knowing that someday a system that we maintain will be responsible for saving someone's life." said Sergeant Vickery.
The F-22 Raptors are deployed from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam for a 90 day commitment to the continuing force posture adjustments to address worldwide requirements. The United States continues to deploy additional forces like the F-22 throughout the Western Pacific. This is the latest example of the flexibility U.S. forces have to meet their ongoing commitments and security obligations throughout the Pacific region.