SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The top athletes in the world must train every day to keep their title of the best. Just as they learn new skills and talents, so must the Air Force continue to innovate and train for us to keep the title of the best Air Force.
A specific asset that helps the Air Force control the wild blue yonder is the F-22 Raptor, one of the newest additions to the Air Force arsenal and a technological revolution that makes it a serious contender in the skies.
Col. Clay Bartels, 80th Flying Training Wing vice commander, described the Air Force’s first-generation fighter jet has a unique combination of stealth, maneuverability, super cruise and integrated avionics, which makes the F-22 “overall, a spectacular airplane to fly.”
“It has the ability to turn in ways that appear to defy the laws of physics and in terms of the mission, the F-22 was primarily designed for air to air,” he said. “But it is also an effective air to ground platform.”
Bartels was part of the first cadre of the first formal F-22 training unit at Tyndall Air force Base, Florida, and was proud to learn how to fly and bring in this newer piece of hardware to the fight. With it being more advanced, though, brought new fixes to old challenges in an ever-changing Air Force.
The colonel said the F-22 also brought in the realm of virtual training with the use of computers and modern aircraft simulations. He said it also posed a unique problem with initial skills training because, unlike most other airframes, there weren’t actual aircraft available for training.
What Bartels was talking about is the F-22 maintainers on the 82nd Training Wing side of Sheppard AFB who have to rely on life-sized models for hands-on experience. The F-22, though, is a beast all in itself to work on, especially its avionics.
“It’s just a lot of craziness that all comes together in this jet,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Okenfuss, 365th Training Squadron F-22 avionics instructor. “There is so much system integration that has not been done at this scale before. The ability of this jet to talk to all the different systems inside – it is mind boggling.”
Mind boggling is just one of the few words the instructor used to describe the technological fireworks that go on in this aircraft. He said the F-22 is a formidable aircraft because of all the “micro changes” the systems make during different maneuvers.
The advanced computer system onboard the jet allows one crew member to pilot the aircraft and focus on tasks, while the computer systems does the work of many people.
It’s up to Okenfuss and other instructors to teach the mind-boggling and astonishing system of the F-22 to the newest crop of Airmen that come through Sheppard, including some who may not have even touched a wrench before their training here. But, that is also what makes the Air Force the best – the ability to teach vast amounts knowledge in a relatively short amount of time.
“It’s 668 training hours,” he said. “The field of systems that is covered by the F-22 avionics is so much more than what is traditionally thought of to be avionics because we are also heavily involved in the flight control systems, and especially the environmental control system.”
Okenfuss said the avionics course covers most of the support systems of the aircraft in addition to their avionics systems. They start training with the vital organs of the F-22’s rock hard body and then the brain, or avionics systems.
“It’s basically a bottom-to-top theory of operation we go through,” he said. “We start from the support systems like your electrical power system, your environmental control system, then we start getting to all the computer front ends, the parts that are more traditionally considered to be avionics.”
All this hard work culminates into highly skilled professionals maintaining one of the most astonishing aircraft in the Air Force – an aerodynamically unstable catastrophe of innovation, which Okenfuss said creates much pride in the work of a maintainer.
“It is an absolutely fantastic piece of hardware,” he said. “When you’re talking maneuverability and its capabilities downrange, it stands head and shoulders above the rest. You got the stealth capability, thrust vectoring, which is the ability to pitch the nozzles up and down. Its maneuverability is unparalleled by any other jet out there.”
The F-22, though, is not what makes the Air Force the greatest. The people who fly them and maintain them allow the Air Force to have this great resource in its fleet.
Bartels said whether it be air, maritime, ground, space, or cyber space, the F-22 is a valuable aircraft in multi-domain operations. It allows the joint commanders who run the war effort a resource that shows what the Air Force can really bring to a fight.
He said joint commands and allies the U.S. depends on gives us all the title of Guardians of Freedom. He said his hope for Sheppard’s Open House and Air Show is for the local communities to see what the Air Force’s mission and its capabilities
Sheppard Air Force Base welcomes everyone from the local community to the Airmen already on base. The colonel said air shows are exciting and can translate the Air Force mission well.
While some Airmen might feel disconnected or not realize how their job fits into the Air Force mission, the air show is an opportunity for them to reconnect and not forget the DNA makeup of an American Airman.