JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. —
Air-to-air combat is fast paced and requires the right aircraft and a well-trained pilot. The pilot needs to have a fast reaction speed and the know-how to make the right decisions at the right time, which is why the some 71st Fighter Training Squadron T-38 pilots are selected to fly the very aircraft they oppose in their training mission, the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor.
"There is no other plane out there that can do what we do, and a lot of people are amazed at how we (work together),” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Chaos, 27th Fighter Squadron F-22 pilot. “I think it’s a reflection on how awesome our jets are, but I also think it’s a reflection on how awesome our pilots are.”
While F-22 pilots are skilled in handling the aircraft’s stealth, super cruise and maneuvers; they did not become fifth generation fighter pilots overnight. The journey to becoming an F-22 pilot, after graduating initial pilot training, generally takes nine months of physical and mental, trials, tests and training.
For some the progression to the fifth-generation cockpit takes two years longer as not every pilot in the 1st FW was chosen to fly the F-22 directly out of pilot training. Some, instead first, hone their pilot skills in the 71st FTS’ cold-war-era trainer aircraft, the T-38 Talon.
Behind the cockpit of the T-38, the pilots have the opportunity to learn about the F-22s through their mission to act as enemy combatants fighting against and mimicking the movements of the aircraft some of them would soon pilot.
“Our job here is to train the current Raptor pilots and to better prepare them for any war that may show up,” said Capt. Champ, 71st Fighter Squadron T-38 Talon pilot. “We go out and set-up red air tactics and give them problems that they have to solve.”
While they may not be F-22 pilots just yet, they are training and working hard alongside them every day, gaining experience they need before attending the eight-month-long basic course, also known as “B” course.
“It was a pretty unique opportunity and I knew it was going to help me out going into “B” course,” said Capt. Vulture, 94th Fighter Squadron F-22 pilot. “It was a great experience, I got a ton of (flying) hours, and I got the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes that I don’t have to make now.”
Going into “B” course, the pilots use their two extra years of knowledge and experience to their advantage in the class filled with otherwise pipe-line pilots.
“The biggest thing we gained here was experience,” said Champ. “When flying an aircraft, experience is what can make or break you sometimes. We are surrounded by the Raptor community and we have the opportunity to see how they operate. That was definitely a huge advantage.”
While in “B” course pilots learn the fundamentals of the F-22, the ins-and-outs of the aircraft and knowing how it will respond during certain situations.
After approximately six weeks of constant training, studying and flight simulations, the pilots get to experience their first flight in an F-22.
“The first time you fly the F-22 is awesome.” said Chaos. “You kind of feel like you hair is on fire because you’ve never flown anything with that kind of power before.”
While not every 1st FW pilot started flying F-22s directly out of pilot training, they see each other as equals and as wingmen that are ready to take the fight to the enemy at a moment’s notice.