Getting Ready for the Raptor

The first four Air Force pilots picked to fly the F-22 without previous fighter experience embarked earlier this week on the initial leg of their two-year-plus training. The four pilots entered the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke AFB, Ariz., on Jan. 14 to start the five-week Raptor Lead-in course. It will put them in two-seat F-16s with an instructor pilot to familiarize them with flying a high-performance, high-G aircraft. Use of the F-16, which like the Raptor, employs fly-by-wire side-stick controls, is meant to ease the transition to the F-22. Upon completion of the course, the pilots will head to Tyndall AFB, Fla., and join the 43rd Fighter Squadron for hands-on training with actual F-22s. The four pilots were selected from a pool of eight candidates that had undergone undergraduate pilot training and taken the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course. All previous F-22 pilots to date migrated to the F-22 after years in fighter cockpits. What these pilots do not know as they enter training is how large the Raptor fleet will be, since that still remains an issue in Fiscal 2009 funding deliberations. (USAF report by 2d Lt. Bryan Bouchard)