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Operational Raptors fire first missiles in WSEP

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Will Powell
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
For the second time in less than four months, the 27th Fighter Squadron made history when two F-22A Raptor pilots fired air-to-air missiles Feb. 14 during the jet's first official air-to-air weapons system evaluation since becoming operational two months ago.

Nearly 40 Airmen from the Langley AFB, Va., squadron participated in the Air Force's air-to-air weapon system evaluation program, known as Combat Archer, at the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron here.

"It's not every day that you can go out and shoot a live missile," said Lt. Col. Raymond O'Mara, 83rd FWS commander. "WSEP is a great training opportunity for pilots to see how the whole system works, and it instills confidence in them that the weapon system is going to work when they need it."

Air Force fighter pilots fire more than 300 missiles each year over the Gulf Range to evaluate the total air-to-air weapons system including aircraft, weapon delivery system, weapon, aircrew, support equipment, technical data and maintenance actions.

"Our basic charter is to make sure our Airmen are effective on their first combat mission and every combat mission thereafter," said Col. Mike Winslow, 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group commander. "That's the whole reason this program exists."

The Raptor has been tested many times before, but this time was different, Colonel O'Mara said.

"The Raptor has gone through a long period of development tests and operation tests where they've established what the airplane is capable of," he said. "But this is the first time we've had operational pilots flying declared operational aircraft with fielded operational weapons and actually employing them the way we would in combat."

WSEP deployments normally last two weeks, but the Langley Raptors were here for only a one-day evaluation to prepare for an upcoming, full-scale deployment in the summer.

"Today was just an investigative shot," said Lt. Col. Jim Hecker, 27th FS commander, who shot the first missile, an AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile. "Since we carry our weapons internally, we were checking to see if the missile telemetry can be picked up outside of the aircraft."

Being able to read the missile's telemetry is important. It's the only way the 83rd FWS can evaluate how well a weapon works.

The pilots planned to shoot sub-scale drones with only four missiles - two AIM-120s and two AIM-9 Sidewinders - to discover and fix any internal carriage problems before the squadron returns this summer. Unfortunately, a fuel pump problem forced one jet to remain on the ground, and another Raptor ran out of safe airspace before being able to fire.

Even though only two missiles were fired, the day was still a success, Colonel O'Mara said.

"We were able to read the missile's telemetry in flight, and both missile shots were successful," he said. "I would have preferred to have all four fired, but this is a good start that will provide plenty of work and data for us to look at."

The day was also significant because no operational Raptor pilot had ever fired a missile from a Raptor before, and some pilots have never fired a missile from any aircraft before, Colonel Hecker said.

"It's great to practice dropping bombs and shooting missiles in a simulator, but actually having a weapon leave the jet just solidifies all your training and what you're learning," said Capt. Chris Batterton, who fired the AIM-9. "It was awesome to see the missile shoot off from the side of the jet like a bottle rocket and then shack the drone. It was a very successful shot."

Colonel O'Mara said he looks forward to adding the Raptor to the WSEP's regular lineup of participants, which currently includes every single air-to-air aircraft in the Air Force's inventory.

"I expect the Raptor to become an integral part of WSEP, and I'm looking forward to the full-up deployment this summer," he said.
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