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. We don’t think it’s overrated. It’s just not our priority. Hell the F-14 had something similar which was very useful. The F-35 has an IRST. The F-22 was supposed to get one, but it was axed for budget reasons. Assume they’ll probably get on in the future. Either a stealthy pod or a retrofit similar to what’s on the F-35s. In short, its certainly useful, but for a purely air superiority fighter like the F-22, everybody else is going to need to massively step up their stealth game for the F-22 to need it. So far, neither the J-10 or PAK-FA are looking stealthy enough (not all aspect LO) for the Raptor to need it to maintain an edge. It’s still gonna see and shoot first.

    Additionally, cloaking a tank and aircraft are worlds of difference. The air friction alone (never mind the engines) makes cloaking aircraft from IR emissions extremely difficult.

    • F-22s are already set up internally – wiring, plumbing, space – for IRST. It just needs the hardware and whatever external components are needed. They just never got it due to shrinking budgets. But IRST on an F-22 wouldn’t be an external pod.

  2. My guess is because at 50Km away or whatever it can actually see you at I have already launched several radar guided missiles. It might be an ego driven ideology that our Radar missiles are that good, but so far they are, as Radar stealth increases on other nations aircraft I am sure we will adapt.

  3. “Air superiority will always rely on three things – turn/roll rate, thrust-to-weight ratio, and a decent gun.”

    Unfortunately, history does not support your claim.

    The following are the numbers for 1,450 air-to-air victories from multiple conflicts from 1965 to the present, broken down by weapon used.

    Worldwide Air-to-Air Kills
    1965 and 1969:
    8% Kills – All-Aspect AAM
    25% Kills – Rear Aspect AAM
    65% Kills – Gun
    2% – Other

    Worldwide Air-to-Air Kills
    1970 – 1979
    1% Kills – BVR AAM
    8% Kills – All-Aspect AAM
    46% Kills – Rear-Aspect AAM
    40% Kills – Guns
    5% Kills – Other

    Worldwide Air-to-Air Kills
    1980 – 1989
    30% Kills – BVR AAM
    40% Kills – All-Aspect AAM
    20% Kills – Rear-Aspect AAM
    7% Kills – Guns
    3% Kills – Other

    Worldwide Air-to-Air Kills
    1990 – 2002
    55% Kills – BVR AAM
    30% Kills – All-Aspect AAM
    8% Kills – Rear-Aspect AAM
    2% Kills – Guns
    5% Kills – Other

    While your claim is accurate for the 1965-1969 time-frame, the subsequent years have demonstrated a notable shift in how air-to-air combat is engaged in. Looking at what weapons have resulted in the highest percentage of kills over the past 50 years, the gun has dropped dramatically and has been replaced by the AAM (Air-to-Air Missile), with by BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missiles currently dominating the airbattle space.

    Over the past five decades, advances in radar and other sensor technologies, missile capabilities, and communication technologies allowed pilots to search effectively much larger volumes of sky and engage targets at ever-increasing range. Most modern air combat engagements were initiated before the aircraft were within visual range with a commensurate decrease in the frequency of maneuvering combat. This means that aircrew SA is no longer primarily linked to what they can physically see through the cockpit canopy, but to what they glean from cockpit displays of sensor output and information passed
    from offboard sources such as nearby friendly aircraft.

    This transformation may be steadily reducing the utility of some attributes traditionally associated with fighter aircraft (e.g., extreme speed and maneuverability) while increasing the value of attributes not usually associated with fighter aircraft (e.g., sensor and weapon payload
    as well as range). Aircraft performance attributes essential for success in air-to-air combat during the gun and early missile eras such as high speed, good acceleration, and maneuverability are much less useful now that aircraft can be detected and engaged from dozens of miles away.

    At the same time, nontraditional attributes such as minimal radar and IR signature; space, payload, and cooling capacity; power for large-aperture long-range sensors; and very-long-range weapons seem to be of increased importance. Both supersonic speed and high maneuverability place significant constraints on aircraft designers and force tradeoffs in aircraft design that limit the incorporation of many of the nontraditional, but increasingly important attributes listed above.

  4. The A-4 is also remarkably difficult to spot visually. With a modern jamming pod (as the Draken jets were carrying), it can simulate a good threat.

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