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Rising Eagles of Serbia: Soko J-22 Orao, the Versatile Light Attack Aircraft and Low-Level Interceptor Takes Flight

Soko J-22 Orao, a light ground attack and tactical reconnaissance aircraft with a secondary low-level interceptor role.

During the 1970s, Yugoslavia and Romania began planning the development of a new ground attack aircraft to replace both the lightly armed Soko J-21 Jastreb and the Republic F-84 Thunderjet that were then in the Yugoslav People’s Army’s arsenal.

The result was the Soko J-22 Orao, a light ground attack and tactical reconnaissance aircraft with a secondary low-level interceptor role. Romanian version is designated as the IAR-93 Vultur. Currently Serbian Air Force operates a total of 32 J-22 Orao aircraft.

The J-22 has a length of 13 m, a wingspan of 9.3 m, a height of 4.52 m, an empty weight of 5.5 tons, and a maximum take-off weight of 11 tons. It is a single seat, twin-engine attack aircraft with a simple structure and was built using both indigenous and license-produced avionics and equipment.

The twin-seat version, the NJ-22, was primarily assigned for various training purposes, including the advanced flight and weapons training syllabuses, but could also be used for combat missions.

The exterior design of the J-22 is quite typical for a combat aircraft of the cold war era. The cockpit was set aft of a short nose cone with a raised fuselage spine blocking views to the rear. Intakes were set outside of the cockpit walls. The pilot sat in an ejection seat under a lightly-framed, single-piece canopy offering good forward and side vision.

The wing mainplanes were high-mounted and each assembly afforded a pair of hardpoints. The tail included a single vertical tail fin and two very low-set horizontal planes. The twin engine arrangement exhausted through a pair of circular jet pipes under the tail fin. The undercarriage was of a tricycle configuration with double-wheeled main legs and a single-wheeled nose leg.

At the heart of the J-22 are two Turbomecanica-built Rolls-Royce Viper Mk 633-47 turbojets, with 17.79 kN dry thrust each, and 22.24 kN with afterburner. The aircraft can reach a maximum speed of 1,130 km/h at sea level, and up to Mach 0.96 at an altitude of 11,000m. Its combat range is 522 km, Ferry range is 1,320 km, service ceiling is 15,000 m, and Rate of climb is 89 m/s.

The standard armament of the J-22 is a pair of 23mm GSh-23L internal cannons for close-in work. Five hardpoints were used to carry various external ordnance options including missiles, conventional drop bombs, and rocket pods. Supported weapons including AGM-65 Maverick guided missiles, Matra Durandal runway denial bombs, and cluster bombs. The aircraft could haul up to 6,200lbs in stores.