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Tyndall squadron prepares for first class of "pipeline" Raptor pilots

  • Published
  • By Jonas Hogg
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Opportunities to train on the Air Force's prized F-22 Raptor are highly competitive, and pilots picked to fly the world's premier fighter have been chosen from the ranks after logging years on other airframes -- until now.

Four first lieutenants currently at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., have been selected as the first "green" Raptor pilots. First lieutenants Austin Skelley, Ryan Shelhorse, Marcus McGinn and Dan Dickinson already have learned fighter fundamentals at Randolph AFB, Texas, and are undergoing further, advanced flight training in two-seat F-16s at Luke.

But in early March, the pilots will be under the guidance of Tyndall's 43rd Fighter Squadron, the standard bearers and setters for any pilot looking to fly the Air Force's latest and greatest fighter. The challenges are two-fold: Students must show they are capable of wielding the most advanced fighter in the world, and teachers must transition from re-training veteran fighters to training new pilots.

"We face the challenge that every other airplane faces. We've had to revamp and expand our training syllabus for these basic course students," said Lt. Col. David Krumm, 43rd Fighter Squadron commander. "There are a lot more academics on how things work, why we do the things the way we do them and a much more basic approach. There are more academics, more simulators and more flights."

Until now, the F-22 trainers have been teaching a three-month transition course for pilots moving from one fighter platform to the Raptor. But the basic course, the first of its kind for the F-22, will take largely inexperienced pilots through a seven-month introduction to the Air Force's prize fighter.

To get ready, the instructors are giving each other flying missions and testing out the syllabus on each other. They also are tapping into the knowledge of their members, some of whom have instructed on the other fighter platforms, and they are gleaning knowledge from the F-15 Eagle instructors of Tyndall's 2nd and 95th Fighter Squadrons.

But the F-22 presents another hurdle for instructors: Unlike the F-15 and F-16, there is no room for a second seat. When other fighter pilots-in-training take off for the first time in their designated aircraft, there is often a second set of experienced hands in tow. But when a young pilot gets his F-22 off the ground for the first time, it will just be him and $150 million in Uncle Sam's property versus Sir Issac Newton's famous theory.

For this challenge, the instructors have turned to pilots of a different sort of airframe, the A-10. Known officially as the Thunderbolt II and unofficially as the Hog, the A-10 is an armored, close-air-support flying stegosaurus that shares little with the quick and nimble Raptor except the single-man cockpit. This similarity has opened communication between the different instructors, Colonel Krumm said.

Pooling all the available knowledge not only will shape the experience of the four young pilots but also will shape the landscape of future F-22 basic courses, scheduled to begin in earnest by 2009.

"The four that are currently at Luke are going to be what we call an SGTO, Small Group Tryout. We're really going to take a good hard look at what the course is and how they respond and how they perform during the time that they're here," the colonel said. "We think we've probably got a 95-percent solution. But we know there's probably some things we need to tweak and correct."

The four pilot trainees are undergoing the Raptor Lead-in Course at Luke, where they will familiarize with the F-16 (in a two-seat variant). The F-16, like the F-22, has the main control on the pilot's right-hand side as opposed to between the legs as in the F-15. The pilots are learning fighter basics such as air-to-air refueling, night flying and high gravity maneuvers and responses.

"(There is) a lot of experience here from a fighter perspective and an intelligence perspective that's very transferable to the F-22," said Brig. Gen. Noel T. Jones, the 56th Fighter Wing commander.

Eight F-16 flights will be completed at the Lead-in Course before the students leave for Tyndall.

As the first F-22 basic course, the group will help take an important step toward Air Force-wide integration of the Raptor. In addition to the training squadron at Tyndall, there are only three active F-22 squadrons, the 27th and 94th at Langley AFB, Va., and the 90th at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

"We're excited about this opportunity. It's quite an honor to be a part of starting something. We keep bringing the F-22 closer to that normalization. It will be just like any other fighter in the way we train and teach, and I think it's going to be great," Colonel Krumm said.

"I think that you will find that any person selected to fly the F-22 will feel very blessed and very lucky.  I know that they are excited about it, and we expect great things from them. I'm confident they will deliver."
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