This is what the F-22 Raptor stealth jet looks like through the thermal camera of a crime-fighting helicopter

Screenshot from the thermal camera used by the EC-135 of the NPAS, based at Filton Aerodrome, west of Swindon, and shows one of the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets that deployed to RAF Fairford to take part in the Royal International Air Tattoo airshow, on the ground, at RAF Fairford, UK, in 2016.

Needless to say, stealth does not mean “invisible”…

The above image was posted by the National Police Air Service helicopter serving the South West of England.

It’s a screenshot from the thermal camera used by the EC-135 of the NPAS, based at Filton Aerodrome, west of Swindon, and shows one of the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets that deployed to RAF Fairford to take part in the Royal International Air Tattoo airshow, on the ground, at RAF Fairford, UK.

The photo is somehow funny, as it depicts the stealth 5th generation jet more or less as it would look like in a combat flight simulator, and interesting, because the IR camera caught the parked Raptor’s heat signature more or less in the same way an infra-red search and track (IRST) systems would perform passive detection of a radar evading plane.

In fact, F-22s and other stealth planes have literally no (or extremely little) radar cross-section  (RCS) but they do have an IR signature. This means that they can be vulnerable to small, fast non-stealthy planes that feature low observable coatings and using their IRST sensors, hi-speed computers and interferometry, to geo-locate enemy LO (low observability) aircraft.

Indeed, there are certain scenarios in which IRST and other tactics could greatly reduce the advantage provided by radar invisibility and this is one of the reasons why USAF has fielded IRST pods to Aggressors F-16s in the latest Red Flags as proved by shots of the Nellis’s Vipers carrying the Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42.

This type of system, also carried by F-15E Strike Eagles, and equipping some other modern combat planes, including the Euro-canard Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale, lets the aggressor passively look for the IR signature of the enemy stealth fighter.

According to some pilots who have fought against the F-22, the IRST can be extremely useful to detect “large and hot stealth targets” like the F-22 (or the even hotter F-35) during mock aerial engagements at distances up to 50 km. Anyway, that’s another story.

For the moment enjoy a cool and unsual shot of the Raptor, that has been one of the highlights of this year’s RIAT.

Image credit: NPAS Filton

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. What are civilian police doing observing a military aircraft?? Looks like police culture is out of control in the UK too.

    • Yeah, what is the UK’s National Police Air Service doing flying over a civilian airport in the UK? They should stick to their own jurisdiction: Civilian airports in the UK!

  2. LOL. The F-35 was easily beat by a two seater F-16 with external wing tanks. Fact.

    • No it wasn’t. Quit posting that bullshit. I know what you referring to. Both parties have come out and said that was in no way even a simulated dogfight.

    • The last guy who punctuated a statement with “Fact.” was Chris Evans regarding his hosting of Top Gear. That didn’t turn our so well for him either.

    • F-35 Very ‘Raptorish,’ Adversary Pilot Says
      July 19, 2016 11:35 AM

      ARLINGTON, Va. — An experienced fighter pilot who has flown in mock combat against the Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II strike fighter has described the F-35’s performance as similar to that of the Air Force’s F-22A Raptor air superiority fighter.

      “I was just flying at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort [S.C.] about three weeks ago against the F-35s,” said Jeff Parker, a former Air Force fighter pilot and now chief executive officer of Airborne Tactical Advantage Co. (ATAC) — a unit of Textron Airborne Solutions — that provides commercially operated adversaries, jet fighters that pose as enemy aircraft to train Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force fighter pilots. “The F-35Bs “are very ‘Raptorish’ in their training and the aircraft is a very capable airplane in the air-to-air arena.”

      Parker, speaking July 18 in a teleconference with reporters, also described the challenge of providing adversary services to fifth-generation fighter aircraft like the F-22 and F-35.

      “Fifth-generation aircraft have a generous appetite for bad guys — for bandits.” Parker said. “They need a lot of adversaries in order to challenge them because their systems are so spatially aware and limited only by the number of missiles that they carry. We have flown against Raptors on many occasions; they are a very impressive aircraft.”

      An F-22 can carry six AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and when a section of two F-22s trains, “ideally they want 12 bandits; the minimum is eight, I believe,” he said. “The F-35 will be a little more missile-limited, but you still are going to want to max out your missile supply [and bandits to counter], because you can.”

    • “. The F-35 was easily beat by a two seater F-16 with external wing tanks. Fact.”

      > It was NOT a WVR winner takes all exercise. It was a TEST of the flight control software. The FACT was that the F-35 in that TEST was using an older flight control software that was more programmed for SAFETY for flight testing rather than aggressive maneuvering found in BFM or ACM. The F-16 in question was used as a visual marker to maneuver with and against.


      A highly experience F-16 fighter pilot and the differences between the F-16 and F-35…

      +an F-35 has the advantage with regards to getting inside the turn of its opponent. In a dogfight between the F-16 and the F-35 they will therefore both have strengths to play on.+


      You want to talk about fact? How about you actually start with FACTS rather than regurgitated bovine fecal matter.

  3. Hahhahaha. Seriously. Just go away already. As more evidence surfaces the more ridiculous you idiots look. The F-35 is chewing up its competition at Red Flag, Green Flag, the Dutch far prefer it in a dogfight over their Viper. The Typhoon is great, but A REALLY long ways from the the ultimate air superiority fighter. Both the F-22 and F-35 will eat it’s lunch before a Typhoon even has a shot at finding them on IRST. And I hate to break it to you, but the the SU-30 and SU-35 do what the Typhoon does, just better (in a purely air superiority/interceptor role). It’s a gen 4+ aircraft. An extremely expensive gen 4 aircraft. There’s a reason the Brits and everyone else are buying F-35s. There’s a reason the Brits designed their first carriers in decades around the F-35. There’s a reason the Israelis, who stake their utter existence on air power, are buying into the F-35 in a huge way.

    This isn’t Vietnam. Air to air missiles are phenomenal now. A gun is a necessity, but it’s still the equivalent of a Green Beret switching to his pistol after running out of rifle ammo. Stealth isn’t the end all be all, but it gives you the first look, and therefore first shot. Ask any pilot in the world what they’d prefer, superior situational awareness or a VERY slight physical performance edge (and i do mean slight since F-35s are swatting Vipers and Eagles with abandon in TURNING fights). Not even what it’s primary role is let’s not forget. And the F-35 does it with bombs on board. I suppose it’s extreme AOA capabilities are worthless right? Just like they’re worthless in Flankers. Just like they’re worthless in the Rhino right? Hahha what a joke.

    Arguments like yours are being voiced by internet idiots with great abandon (i assume you’re pry on Pierre Sprey mailing list haha). The only problem is, everyday the F-35 gets better and the cynics are just further fed humble soup. Just stop already. Or educate yourself.

    Curious how much time you’ve spent around either the F-35 or Typhoon. I’d guess absolutely zero.

    • Air-to-air missiles are still unreliable, especially BVR – and jamming is becoming increasingly sophisticated. The RAF pilots I’ve spoken to left me in no doubt that the F-35 is being bought for purely political reasons, and that the Eurofighter would eat it for breakfast. Certainly, the Eurofighter is vastly superior in turn rate, roll rate, acceleration and outright speed.

      • Actually looks like the F-35 can out accelerate and outrun the Typhoon at low level. Particularly by unloading and using body lift. That’s pretty typical though. There are drawbacks to canards and having all the wing area in the world.

        I’m sure both will probably run into inlet/compressor temp problems.

        • There’s simply no way the F-35 can compete with the Eurofighter on thrust-to-weight…

          • You might want to get a thorough understanding of induced drag.
            The same aerodynamic tricks thing that makes the Typhoon very maneuverable can negate transonic performance in thick air below 2000ft.

            I’m not saying the F-35 has more T/W, it dosen’t but with fuel state at CAP, both will be batting around within 14% of each other.

  4. They’re specifically used because of their amazing low speed maneuverability. Couple that with a jamming pod and modern weapons and you basically have the aircraft that the Indians used to give the US headaches at Cape India (MiG-21 Bisons). Age means very little these days. Capabilities do.

    And no, the A-4 was not the answer to the Hunter. The A-4s these guys are tangling with are usually A-4Ks owned by Draken International. Most of their pilots are NWS grads are USAFWS grads. Aka the best in the business. There’s a reason Typhoon pilots go to those schools…not the other way around. They aren’t even in the same stratosphere as a Hawker Hunter. Just stop.

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