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Why US Air Force is rebuilding $140 million plane from scrap parts

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The U.S. Air Force are rebuilding from SCRAP PARTS a $140M F-22 stealth fighter that crashed on a runway. (USAF via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

The U.S. Air Force are rebuilding a $140M F-22 stealth fighter that belly-flopped on a runway - from SCRAP PARTS.

The warplane, piloted by a rookie as a ‘TOPGUN graduation exercise sortie,’ skidded an incredible 6514 ft on its underside immediately after take-off at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, in April 2018.

Fortunately, the pilot was unharmed, even though the aircraft sustained substantial damage.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Fitch, left, and Staff Sgt. Ethan Rentz, 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-22 crew chiefs, were tasked with rebuilding U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Nov. 29, 2021. (USAF via SWNS).

Now, incredible pictures show how mechanics are trying to get the jet back into service.

With steady progress being made on the rebuild, the functional check flight for tail number AF-07-146 is now projected for March 2022.

Crew chief Tech. Sgt. Kevin Fitch at Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, said: “Some of the parts won’t be available until summer or fall of 2022, so we’ll probably end up canning those from aircraft that are going to be down for a while.

“Right now, the biggest challenge is acquiring parts because the F-22 isn’t manufactured anymore."

Canning, short for cannibalizing, is a term that refers to taking usable parts from one aircraft for use on another, depending on various aircraft’s state of repair and the timeline for new manufactured parts to be completed.

The U.S. Air Force is rebuilding from SCRAP PARTS a $140M F-22 stealth fighter that crashed on a runway.(USAF via SWNS)
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This method returns aircraft to combat-capable status sooner because it cuts down on time waiting for new parts to be manufactured.

With parts arriving throughout the year, crew chief Staff Sgt. Ethan Rentz compares rebuilding the F-22 to completing a puzzle. Though they have some parts to complete sections of the aircraft, the intent is not to undo those repairs when other parts arrive to complete repairs that are necessary behind the previously built section.

Since F-22s are no longer manufactured, returning the jet to mission-capable and combat-ready status is important for not only 3rd Wing capabilities, but capabilities of the entire U.S. Air Force.

“It’s really important we get this jet back in flight,” Fitch said.

“Five months ago it had no struts, no wings, no flight controls, no hydraulics, no stabilizers. Seeing the progress and doing something out of the ordinary has been really rewarding.”

After being part of the team that disassembled the crashed aircraft and now part of the rebuild team, Rentz has seen and done what only a handful of crew chiefs get to do.

“It’s going to be very satisfying when it flies,” he said. “Several agencies with all their efforts are fulfilling the Air Force’s vision of getting this jet back up.”

A report into the crash by the United States Air Force Accident Investigation Board added: “The mission was scheduled and briefed as a TOPGUN graduation exercise sortie.

U.S. Air Force maintenance crew rebuild U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Nov. 29, 2021. (USAF via SWNS).

"The mission was to take off from NAS Fallon and fly to a predesignated point in the assigned airspace in order to fight BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuver) against a Navy F-18 Hornet, piloted by a TOPGUN student.

“This mission would include advanced maneuvering, including aggressive gravitational forces imposed on each pilot during the fight.”

The report stated the MP’s (Mishap Pilot) callsign was TOPGUN65, and he was flying “as a single-ship for the departure with the intent to join with his opponent in the airspace.”

The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) President found that the causes of the mishap were two procedural errors by the pilot.

First, they had incorrect Takeoff and Landing Data (TOLD) for the conditions at NAS Fallon on the day of the mishap, and more importantly, he failed to apply any corrections to the incorrect TOLD.

Second, the pilot prematurely retracted the landing gear at an airspeed that was insufficient for the aircraft to maintain flight.

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