Sky watchers in the southern Nevada desert will soon be seeing the Air Force's new combat/attack aircraft the F/A-22 Raptor flying overhead as it fine tunes it's capabilities.
ACC Commander, Gen. Hal Hornburg sees the new F/A-22 Raptor as a sign of transformation in the defense business and the future of air superiority. "This is an airplane not just of the United States Air Force, but of the United States of America," he said.
In his speech at Nellis Air Force Base's F/A-22 activation ceremony last week, Hornburg said the Raptor will do things other airplanes can't do. "Soldiers are glad that the Air Force saw through and thought with tenacity and invention to bring this aircraft into fruition because it will fundamentally alter the way we fight as a nation," he said.
The Raptor's multi-role air dominance and strike system is the world's first truly stealth military aircraft capable of conducting simultaneous air- to-air and air- to-ground combat missions.
Last week's ceremony marked the official start of operational testing and evaluation of the new fighter at Nellis' Air Warfare Wing. The American flag and the F/A-22 served as backdrop for the ceremony, presented in its new $7.8 million hangar and was host to Nevada dignitaries, air force personnel and contractors responsible for making the aircraft operational.
The first Raptor, 00-012 was flown to Nellis January 14 from Edwards Air Force Base by Lt. Col. Dave Rose, chief of Nellis' F/A-22 Integration Office and Air Combat Command's first F/A-22 pilot. "The objectives were met during its initial 1.3 hour flight," said Rose. "The aircraft has performed outstanding through all our flights and marks the turning point in the effort to integrate the F/A-22 weapons system into the combat force."
Rose will train the initial cadre of young fighter pilots at Nellis. "We have taken all the good attributes of air superiority of other aircraft and integrated them into the F/A-22," he said. Built by Lockheed Martin, the aircraft is powered by two F-119 Pratt and Whitney engines. The Raptor is comprised of parts and subsystems by approximately 1,000 subcontractors and suppliers. It combines stealth, integrated avionics, and maneuverability to make it a dominant presence to aggressively attack enemy forces and protect friendly combat units into the 21st century.
"There are people in this world that want to do America harm and it is imperative to protect it," said Mr. Randy Black, Commander of the Nellis support team. "The F/A-22 represents the opportunity to protect this country's freedom."
"It's a giant step from the F-15 and F-16 and it's a gateway to future development of stealth and furthering the knowledge necessary to find, track, target, engage and assess the enemies of the United States. It brings a whole new meaning to get low, get fast and get invisible," he said.
Nellis is scheduled to receive eight F/A-22's between now and 2004, though the Raptor's nesting ground began at Nellis in April 2001 when the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron Operations facility was completed. The facilities boast a state of the art corrosion/composite repair facility, five fully automated classrooms, an F-119 training bay and a hands on training lab Future facilities will include a munitions maintenance facility and a full-size F/A-22 forward fuselage and canopy trainer.
Nellis' 3.5 million acre, 12,000 square mile range complex over southern Nevada will be used by the 422 TES for operational test and evaluation. "The F/A-22 needs the range to spread its wings, learn to fly and sharpen its talents,"said Black.
With a wingspan of more than 44 feet, the Raptor can reach a speed of Mach 1.8 (super cruise: Mach 1.5) and is armed with two AIM-9 sidewinders six AIM-120-C advanced medium range air to air missiles, (AMRAAM) one 20mm Gatling gun and two, 1,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).
The Air Force sees the F/A-22 as the key enabler for joint and coalition forces to be able to operate around the clock without fear of attack. The Raptor will also enable the service to operate it's other stealth assets- the B-2 Spirit, the F-117 Nighthawk and the Joint Strike fighter.
Rose said he would feel ready to take it into combat now. "If we had to go right now, if there was a situation, I would take this thing into combat," he said. "Basically we have to have a good building block approach and validate the actual concept and make sure we get it right."
After test and evaluation, Raptor pilots and maintainers will eventually train at Tyndall AFB in Fla. with the first operational wing based at Langley AFB in Langley, Va.