F-22A Raptor flies first operational missions
by Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The Raptor mission came one week after the 27th Fighter Squadron -- the first unit to fly the jet -- converted to the Air Force’s fifth-generation stealth fighter. The jet just reached its initial operational capability in December.
"Since becoming IOC, we have the ability to deploy," squadron commander Lt. Col. James Hecker said. "This is our first operational mission, the first mission where we've carried live ordnance.”
Operation Noble Eagle provides air defense over the United States and Canada. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the nation, North American Aerospace Defense Command fighters have responded to more than 2,000 air events over the two countries. Aircraft have flown more than Noble Eagle 40,000 sorties.
The colonel said there is plenty of excitement at the unit, though many of its pilots have flown Noble Eagle missions.
“Most of our pilots have done this before, but not with the Raptor,” he said. “It's a big step for us and a big step for the Raptor program."
Capt. Geoff Lohmiller flew one of the sorties. He said while it felt good to finally get a real mission under the F-22A's belt, the pilots looked at it like any other mission.
"It's not much different," he said. "We train for this every day. The great thing about this jet is that it has the capability to do so many different things."
Colonel Hecker said the F-22A provides advantages to Operation Noble Eagle that “legacy” fighters can't provide.
"Operation Noble Eagle is one of many missions the Raptor is capable of," he said. "We bring some things to the mission that others can't.”
With its advanced sensor package, the F-22A has the capability to detect and track targets better than other fighters, the colonel said.
“We get a God's-eye view of the airspace and everything in it,” Colonel Hecker said. “And its supercruise allows us to intercept targets faster and further out."
Supercruise is the F-22A's ability to remain at supersonic speeds without using its afterburner. This allows faster sustained speeds with lower fuel consumption.
Captain Lohmiller said the F-22A's sensors made a big difference during his mission.
"I had a lot more situational awareness," he said. "There's a lot of stuff flying around up there. It's easier to keep track of them in this jet. It's all right at our fingertips."
Maj. Gen. M. Scott Mayes, 1st Air Force and Continental U.S. NORAD Region commander, said the squadron and its jets are welcome additions to the Noble Eagle mission.
"In a dynamic and changing global threat environment, the F-22 Raptor will enable our nation to best defeat emerging threats and provide our forces a decisive and overwhelming advantage," General Mayes said.
The general said the command is looking forward to fully integrating the Raptor's capabilities -- “alongside our smart mix of alert fighters, irregular air patrols, airborne early warning assets, improved radar coverage and connectivity and a multi-layered air defense.
“With everything we bring to bear, we are posturing ourselves to fight not just today's war, but tomorrow's threat and beyond," he said.
Langley's 94th Fighter Squadron is next that will convert to the F-22A, with its first jet scheduled to arrive in March.
(Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)
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