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Roaring Raptor Stuns in Rare Performance
Darting through tight loops, snapping into rolls and roaring through unexpected starts and stops, the F-22 Raptor flies like a cornered animal.

But the man at the controls says the cutting-edge fighter jet is remarkably tame to pilot.

The F-22 Raptor carries bombs and missiles internally. Image right: The F-22 Raptor soars by the audience during the World Space Expo. The aircraft uses vectored, or steerable, exhaust to help maneuver in tight turns. The fighter jet carries all of its weaponry inside so it can remain invisible to radar. Photo: NASA/Chris Chamberland
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U.S. Air Force Maj. Paul Moga, whose call sign is "Max," showed off the Raptor at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida during three performances at the first World Space Expo on Nov. 1- 4.

Although Moga used the jet's twin engines to rip through the air on passes reaching Mach 0.94, the maneuvers that took him sharply skyward or showed off a tight circle turn were the ones that no other performer was able to match.

Maj. Paul Image left: Maj. Paul "Max" Moga flies the Raptor during aerial demonstrations. He said the aircraft remains completely under control during the flight, even though it doesn't always appear so to the audience. Photo: U.S. Air Force
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It was a rare sight for air show audiences anywhere in the world because the Raptor was too new for aerial demonstrations until this year.

"Having flown another aircraft, being the F-15C, when I'm doing some of the things I do in this demo in the Raptor, sometimes I actually can't believe that I'm doing it," Moga said. "I can't believe that the aircraft is allowing me to execute those maneuvers, and allowing me to execute them safe. I mean, I'm totally under complete control throughout the whole demo."

The Raptor's engines are strong enough to make the plane cruise at supersonic speeds, but the key to its tight turns and exotic demonstrations is a set of robust ramps that can steer the exhaust up and down.

It's a technology that NASA helped develop with the X-31 aircraft.

The F-22 Raptor. Image right: The F-22 Raptor moves into place at the flight line at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility following an air show performance at the World Space Expo. Photo: NASA/ George Shelton
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For Moga, incorporating that technology safely into the demonstration flights was one of the challenges of choreographing the show.

"Really, what I'm trying to display at an air show is primarily the power and maneuverability of the aircraft," Moga said. "Those two alone truly set it apart from anything that is in the world right now."

During a particularly stunning maneuver that is a standard for Raptor flying, Moga pulled the aircraft straight up, but let the jet stall and start sliding backward while its nose fell forward. He let the aircraft flutter a bit before turning up the engines again and steering straight out of the fall with no problem.

It was enough to make other fighter pilots watching the show shake their heads.

"Even though there's a couple times where it looks like I'm out of control and falling like a leaf to the Earth, I am in complete control of the aircraft and that alone speaks to how capable this airframe is," he said.

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Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center