Interesting Photo Shows F-22 Raptor Landing At RAF Lakenheath With Open Missile Bay

This Is Something You Don’t See Too Often.

The photographs in this post were taken by our contributor Alessandro Fucito on Oct. 12, 2017. They show a U.S. Air Force Raptor jet, belonging to the 1st FW, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, deployed to the UK, since Oct. 8, landing at RAF Lakenheath with the side weapon bay open.

The stealth multirole jet AF 08-154 is one of the six involved in a FTD (Flying Training Deployment) in Europe. The aircraft have just completed a tour of duty at Al Dhafra airbase, UAE, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq.

Noteworthy, an AIM-9X Sidewinder can be seen inside the open weapon bay.

The F-22 with the open side bays landing at RAF Lakenheath. (Image: Alessandro Fucito).

The latest variant of the Sidewinder missile is a recent addition to the F-22 Raptor inventory: the IR-guided missile has been integrated on Mar. 1, 2016, when the 90th Fighter Squadron (FS) belonging to the 3rd Wing stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska officially became the first combat-operational Raptor unit to equip an F-22 with the AIM-9X Sidewinder.

Most of US combat planes use the AIM-9X along with a Helmet Mounted Display since 2003 (by the way, one was fired at a Syrian Su-22 recently, but failed for reasons that are still unclear): with a HMD (like the American Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System – JHMCS), information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision. The HMD enables the pilot to exploit the full HOBS (High Off-Boresight) capabilities of the AIM-9X and engage a target by simply looking at it.

However the AIM-9X will not be coupled to a HMD as the Raptor is not equipped with such kind of helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery as the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts.

In 2019, the Air Force plans to equip the F-22 with the AIM-9X Block II, the F-22 will probably fill the gap as the most advanced variant of the Sidewinder is expected to feature a Lock-on After Launch capability with a datalink, for Helmetless High Off-Boresight (HHOBS) at intermediate range: the air-to-air missile will be launched first and then directed to its target afterwards even though it is behind the launching aircraft.

This will not give the F-22 the same ability as an HMD-equipped aircraft, still better than nothing.

The different AIM-9X envelopes (credit: Hughes via The War Zone)

Back to the top photo, we don’t know the reason why the aircraft flew with an open weapon bay. Although the aircraft can take-off and land with the open side bays, it’s something that happens quite rarely and this leads to believe it might have been because of some sort of system fault that prevented it from being closed.




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. Really interesting picture. Radar absorbing coating looks quite worn. Exposed fasteners/rivets, gaps between panels are not puttied – it seems that radar signature of this particular Raptor is much greater than declared 0.0001 m² !
    And what are these stains on the panel under the cockpit? Dirt? Oil? Rust?

    • If it’s anything like the F-117, they didn’t bother with maintaining stealth when they didn’t need to.

      • But isn’t application of radar absorbing coating rather difficult task? When it was announced that F-22s need coating, it was estimated that LM will be able to do it only for 12 airframes per year.

        • That number would actually be closer to 31 aircraft per year if you were to start from IOC date 2005 to end of procurement 2011. However the when the F-22 entered FRP on average 20 aircraft were produced per year.

          So you’re wrong again. When an F-22 (like the F-35) was accepted by the USAF it was a fully finished product with stealth coatings already applied.

    • I knew butt hurt from Russia would come up. Before you try and “trash talk” the F-22 you might want to look at your own aircraft first…

      big fat zit on top of the nose in front of the cockpit. Exposed rivets…

      non stealthy engine nozzles…

      exposed engine face…

      twin and separated engine nacelles that aren’t planform aligned or or blended into the body…

      look 2 more zits; one behind the cockpit and one below.

      So an F-22 looking like its actually been used is still looking more stealthy than a PAKFA with all its glaring imperfections in regards to stealth…

      • Hey, that’s Russian aircraft! It should look dirty and menacing!
        Now let’s talk about stealth.
        Unlike LM with F-22, Sukhoi never promoted PAK FA as ultimate stealth fighter. In Russian design stealth features play supplementary role and don’t affect other characteristics.
        That means that it’s engines breathing better on wide range of angles of attack, it has real 3D thrust vectoring instead of plain flaps moving up and down, it has optical targeting system, and is overall more balanced combat platform.

        • “Hey, that’s Russian aircraft! It should look dirty and menacing!”

          > well they certainly look dirty I’ll agree with you on that…

          “Unlike LM with F-22, Sukhoi never promoted PAK FA as ultimate stealth fighter”

          > Oh? I remember when it was first publicly revealed, SU and Russian media outlets claimed that this aircraft was going to be as stealthy as its US counter parts…

          “In Russian design stealth features play supplementary role and don’t affect other characteristics”

          > because at around vodka-o’clock they didn’t bother making a VLO platform? The stealth characteristic do not seem to hamper the F-22 and F-35 much.

          • I remember when it was first publicly released, LM and US media outlets claimed F-35 has supercruise and can outmaneuver F-16.

            >because at around vodka-o’clock they didn’t bother making a VLO platform?< almost there, man. Stealth is just a technology, and combat plane is a synergy of different technologies, aimed to achieve certain goals. Given that PAK FA was created with F-22 in mind, it has everything to defeat it in the skies, even with round nozzles ;) >The stealth characteristic do not seem to hamper the F-22 and F-35 much.< F-22: no 3D thrust vectoring, no IRST, supercruise range of only 200 miles; F-35: Intakes provide optimal air flow to engines only on certain speed; tiny weapons load in internal bays, problems with heating, etc etc.

  2. It’s possible that they went out and did some DACT with UK Typhoons and wanted to practice in full stealth mode so they didn’t have Luneburg-lens radar reflectors installed, but coming back for reasons of positive air traffic control they needed to open the weapons bay doors to enable ATC radar contact. Or …

    Or a Russian might have been in the operating area spying on them and they didn’t want to give away free RCS data when they were out engaging each other, but needed positive radar contact inbound – again for ATC reasons. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for this unusual landing configuration. Or …

    Or a simple mechanical issue. Doesn’t matter. It’s not engageable by any Russian or Chinese fighter flying anywhere. And it won’t be for a couple of decades at least. Now who in their right freedom-loving mind doesn’t like that?

  3. “However the AIM-9X will not be coupled to a HMD as the Raptor is not equipped with such kind of helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery as the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts.”


    The USAF put out an RFP for a HMD for the F-22 Raptor 2 years later in 2015


    so far there has been nothing officially stating that the USAF completely shut this down or saying that the USAF will pursue it at a later date.

    Despite not having a HMD/CS the F-22 has shown to still be exceedingly capable in the WVR arena. In most if not all instances in high level exercises the F-22’s stealth, avionics, and supercruise allows the F-22 to engage at its discretion often at long range before the enemy knew the F-22 was even there to begin with.

    • I’ve read in Combat Aircraft that the F-22 canopy is not wide enough to allow the pilot to wear an HMD. Or that would severely limit the head movements.

      • Did you ever hear anything about the helmet being “too much” for the pilot’s head under sustained high G maneuvers?

        IIRC, the F-35 doesn’t have the same problem… because it can’t handle the same G loading that the F-22 can.

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  5. A good journalist states the facts with no opinion one way or the other on what things seemed like or may have been about or not been about.
    The way this was posted leads me to wonder why the weapons bay door or ¿doors? appeared to be open.
    Did the pilot fire & forget? Forget to close the door that is.
    Is this normal or unusual for an F-22 to land like that?
    How many sidewinders were visible versus how many are they able to carry? 6 or so?
    Is the new coating of invisible anti’radar paint so good as to make the covers seem to disappear?
    So many questions, so little understanding.
    I look forward to some factual clarification. Thank you.

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