Maintaining stealth capabilities

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Cheyenne Lewis
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Looking at an F-22 Raptor, one can clearly see the hard composite exterior creating the physical frame and shell of the aircraft. What may not be noticed is the special paint job, called low observable, which forms a layer of protection.

LO, commonly known as stealth, is one of many capabilities that allows the aircraft to achieve air dominance in contested airspace while remaining undetected, ensuring the U.S. Air Force remains lethal to adversaries in the 21st century while retaining the wellbeing of pilots.

“Stealth solely exists for pilot and aircraft lethality and survivability,” said Staff Sgt. August Hoffman, 325th Maintenance Squadron LO craftsman.

LO Airmen assigned to the 325th MXS are responsible for retaining the stealth capabilities of the wing’s F-22 Raptors.

“It’s necessary to have LO sections across Air Combat Command,” said Master Sgt. Donte Slocum, 325th MXS LO section chief. “As you continue to fly the aircraft, the LO begin to deteriorate. We need to be there to replenish the stealth coatings and maintain the stealth capability.”

LO Airmen regularly inspect aircraft to ensure stealth capabilities are maintained, inputting the data into an analytical computer program, which rates its capability. A higher number means the aircraft LO system is less pristine, and therefore in need of some maintenance to utilize stealth to its full potential.

“Our biggest mission is to make sure the number reflected is accurate to what the aircraft actually is capable of,” added Hoffman.

It takes a skilled, human touch to ensure the stealth technology is functioning properly. The paint, shape, material and coatings are all vital parts. Any damaged or loose parts can alter the shape and lower the stealth’s integrity.

 “Take-off and landing puts a lot of stress on the aircraft,” continued Hoffman. “We have to go in and repair those things.”

According to Hoffman, LO contributes not only to the safety of pilots and aircraft, it also increases aircraft longevity.

“We had an aircraft that was produced a little over 20 years ago, and when we shot it with a radar, it came back with almost exactly the same as when it originally rolled off the factory,” Hoffman stated. “That’s a testament to how great the 325th MXS LO Airmen have maintained these aircraft.”

Constant upkeep and attention is required to maintain aircraft, and LO Airmen ensure the jets are mission ready.

“I’m very proud of everything these Airmen do,” added Slocum. “They come here every day and work [hard] and our numbers show it. They’re making this office, themselves and these aircraft look great.”