September 21, 2011 (by SSgt. Kirsten Wicker) - Since the four-month safety stand-down order was issued on the F-22 Raptor, the first of Tyndall's F-22s launched over the skies of the Emerald Coast to kick off the return to official flying operations.
USAF F-22A block 10 no. 00-4013 from the 43rd FS takes off after a four-month stand down at Tyndall AFB on September 21st, 2011. [USAF photo by Lisa Norman]
The jets were piloted by Lt. Col. David O'Malley, 325th Operations Support Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Tom Kafka, 43rd Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, Lt. Col. Bradley Bird, 43rd FS
commander, Lt. Col. Nick Kavouras, 325th Fighter Wing chief of safety.
"This is certainly a very exciting day for us, especially for the pilots," said Colonel Bird. "Flying is what we do. It's in our blood. We've trained, studied and prepared and we are more than ready to get back in the saddle and do what we do best - train pilots to guarantee Air Dominance for America."
The Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz approved an implementation plan developed by Air Combat Command that allows the F-22 to resume flight operations. Officials remain focused on the priorities of aircrew safety and combat readiness. The return-to-fly plan implements several risk mitigation actions, to include rigorous inspections, training on life support systems, and continued data collection.
"We are excited to finally have this day upon us, and I'm looking forward to hearing the sound of freedom once again," said Brig. Gen. John K. McMullen, 325th FW commander. "The mission of the 325th FW is to guarantee Air Dominance through world class training and this is a major part of that."
In a task force approach to implementation, Air Combat Command officials developed a comprehensive incremental return-to-fly plan that balances safety and the expedient qualification of pilots against the inherent risks of flying advanced combat aircraft, officials said.
"We are the only base in the Air Force to train pilots to fly the F-22 and we are thrilled to get them back in the air," General McMullen said. "We've been doing everything we can to keep our maintenance Airmen and aircrews trained up, with lots of academics and lots of simulator training, but you really have to get in the airplane and take off and get that first mission under your belt."
"I'm confident in the safety of this airplane; we've taken every precaution and have prepared diligently for this day," he added.
During normal training operations, the wing can fly up to 18 sorties a day. Today the jets will fly six with the most experienced pilots before allowing students to return to flying training.
"We couldn't be happier - the guys flying today are grinning ear to ear, they're very confident, very focused and very serious," said General McMullen.
The commander of Air Combat Command directed a stand-down of the fleet on May 3, 2011, as a safety precaution following 12 separate reported incidents where pilots experienced hypoxia-like symptoms. The incidents occurred over a three-year period beginning in April 2008.
The 325th FW's primary mission is to provide training for F-22 pilots and maintenance personnel and air battle managers to support the combat Air Force. Training for F-22 pilots is performed in the 43rd Fighter Squadron. The 325th FW is the first unit to receive and employ the F-22 in a training capacity.