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. Most likely system failure causing the door to be stuck open that is the only time I’ve seen them land like that. Pictures isn’t clear enough to tell if it is a live missile more than likely not. Lives are rarely loaded. Unless they will be fired (red flag or similar training or there is a chance they will have to be used i.e combat sorties.)

  2. I’m gonna go with missile bay door mechanical issue. The launcher is retracted back into the aircraft like it would be with the doors closed. For tracking and launch, the launcher rail moves so that the nose of the missile is pointed out and away from the aircraft, giving the AIM-9 a wider field of view and helping it launch away from the aircraft. Although I can’t see the live/inert marking bands, I’m pretty sure it’s a CATM-9X (captive air training munition) since they would only be flying live missiles if they were on combat missions (like they did out of Al Dhafra) or at a live fire exercise at Tyndall. Note: Aircraft participating in Red Flag do NOT fly with live missiles. The only live ordnance at Red Flag is some A/G stuff, usually just Mk-82s and such.

    • It happened also with the AIM-9L. I thought that was because the 9L wouldn’t fit in the weapons bay but then they just wouldn’t fly with it. THe missile was in its extended position.

  3. I really wish we could build more f-22s they’re talking about something having to do with software being outdated or some other piss-poor excuse for why they can’t build any more Raptors. Well I know one thing the F-22 is no F-35 and I’m glad. Why did he need three F-35 variants? Why can’t they all fly the Marine Corps version it would be good for landing on a deck the Air Force could still use it just the same with similar performance and it would have the VTOL capability that the Marines need.

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