Although the average air-show spectator may not know it, the world's most advanced fighter jet relies on a sophisticated flight computer system largely built in Fort Wayne when performing its awe-inspiring stunts.
Members of the U.S. Air Force's F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team – in town for the Fort Wayne Air Show – visited employees of BAE Systems on Thursday, giving workers a rare firsthand glimpse at the important role their product plays in the Raptor's overall performance and the safety of its pilots.
About 50 BAE employees met the F-22 demo team – comprised of one pilot and half a dozen crew members – when it arrived Thursday with two Raptors at the Fort Wayne Air National Guard base on Ferguson Road. The visit came as a big morale-booster for employees who make critical parts for the F-22 but rarely, if ever, see the finished product, said Thomas Le, a BAE engineer who helped organize the event.
“It's just neat to see all your work going into a portion of the fighter jet,” Le said. “You get to see the finished product, and it's really cool.”
F-22 demo pilot Maj. Henry “Schadow” Schantz and his crew also toured the BAE plant, 2000 Taylor Street, spoke to employees about the Raptor and held an hour-long question-and-answer session.
While BAE builds primarily commercial products, military work represents about 20 percent of the Fort Wayne plant's business, said company spokesman Jeff Benzing. The plant employs more than 1,100 people, including at least 100 directly involved with military programs, he said.
The plant makes circuit cards that comprise much of the Raptor's “brain,” transmitting data from the pilot's control stick to guide the plane's movements, said Corin Beck, director of the company's fixed-wing avionics division. The plant also builds computer flight systems for the F-18 Super Hornet fighter jet and the UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
The F-22 can hit Mach 2 – or between 1,200 and 1,300 miles per hour – and pull off dizzying maneuvers safely because of the Fort Wayne-built system, which essentially thinks for itself and adjusts the pilot's commands based on current conditions, Schantz said.
“This aircraft is very, very, very smart,” he said. “It will go where it thinks the pilot wants to go, in a very efficient manner.”
Although pilots consider each of the Raptor's parts important, the aircraft could fly safely without some of its components, Schantz said. But without the circuit cards produced at BAE, Schantz said, he could never get off the ground.
Beck said BAE prides itself on its reliable products, noting that the last F-22 – production of new Raptors ended earlier this year – came out of assembly without a single defect. Schantz also thanked workers Thursday for making quality parts, saying the digital flight system helps him focus on missions and land safely.
“Thank you guys so much for what you do, bringing us home safe each and every day,” Schantz told workers.
Le, the BAE engineer, said he sensed a mutual respect between the Raptor crew and the local workers who help build the aircraft.
“They get to see the people who build the products, and we get to see the people who fly and maintain the F-22,” he said. “I think there's a lot of respect there.”