August 8, 2013 (by Capt. Erin Dorrance) - Holloman is home to 24 sleek, stealth F-22 Raptors, a fifth generation jet that the Pentagon says can outgun and outmaneuver any fighter plane across the globe.
USAF F-22A block 30 no. 05-4093 from the 7th FS takes-off from Holloman AFB on February 29th, 2013. [USAF photo by A1C. Daniel E. Liddicoet]
The aircraft's revolutionary radar and sensor capabilities, ability to cruise above Mach 1 without afterburners, thrust-vectoring super-maneuverability, and its dual air-to-air and air-to-ground mission capabilities ensures the U.S. Air Force maintains air supremacy.
The pilots who fly the $143 million jet say they are living a dream.
Maj. Chris "Bandit" Bergtholdt has flown the F-22 since 2007. The 2000 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate flew F-15C Eagles before he transitioned to the F-22, which he compares as going from a Porsche to a Lamborghini.
"Both aircraft are very capable, but one is much more advanced than the other," he said.
Major Bergtholdt wanted to be an Air Force pilot because his dad was an Air Force pilot who flew C-130s.
He not only flies F-22s, but Major Bergtholdt, who serves as the 7th Fighter Squadron director of operations, also flies the T-38A.
"We have seven T-38 aircraft in our squadron inventory which we use as aggressors to train our F-22 pilots," he said. "Our training objectives include scenarios where F-22 pilots are outnumbered and challenged. The T-38s help us create these scenarios."
About 60 percent of the 7th FS
pilots are dual qualified to fly the F-22 and T-38A aircraft. This equates to maintaining 85 flying qualifications; 70 for the F-22 and 15 for the T-38, he said.
On average an F-22 sortie lasts about one hour, although an F-22 could fly for two and a half at high altitudes without the use of after burners. Once the pilots land, they debrief every aspect of the flight which can take anywhere from one to eight hours, depending on the training mission and type of flight.
Perhaps the most controversial F-22 training in southern New Mexico comes from the frequent flying at supersonic speeds because the jets create sonic booms which can be heard on the ground.
"If we eliminated the ability to fly supersonic in the F-22, our fifth generation jet would be no more capable than a fourth generation jet," said Major Bergtholdt. "Flying supersonic is part of our tactics and we have to train all of our pilots on that capability."
On an average sortie, an F-22 will fly supersonic anywhere from one to five times, he said. The supersonic operations over land are typically conducted above 30,000 feet; however, the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration have approved some areas for supersonic flight below 30,000 feet. Additionally, Holloman Air Force Base advertises the time that F-22s will be flying to inform residents of possible sonic booms. The Raptor flying schedule can be found on the Holloman Sounds of Freedom webpage, facebook page, and on the radio.
Beyond sonic booms, the F-22s have continuously been in the news because of the pilot-reported issues with hypoxia, which results from a lack of oxygen supply to the cells and tissues of the body. The U.S. Air Force has combed over every inch of the oxygen system in F-22s, as well as the pilot's equipment, to fully investigate this issue.
"We've never had any mysterious hypoxia issues at the 7th FS," said Lt. Col. Shawn "Rage" Anger, 7th FS commander.
Colonel Anger has flown the F-22 since 2004, and was the 33rd military pilot to fly the aircraft. The former F-16 pilot quickly submitted his name for the F-22 program at the end of his second assignment, and was selected as initial cadre at the F-22 schoolhouse. He has seen the aircraft integrate into the operational Air Force, and is now rewarded by commanding Holloman's only F-22 squadron.
"There are two things that make the 7th FS unique," said Colonel Anger. "First, we have unbelievably amazing flying weather here. Our attrition due to weather is almost at 0%, which is not the case at Langley or Elmendorf. Second, the White Sands Missile Range is one of only two F-22 ranges over land (the second is in Alaska) which creates distinctive training scenarios. And since we are so close to the range, almost 100% of the gas we spend is tactical because we don't have to fly a hundred miles to get to the range."
The training which 7th FS pilots receive at Holloman has also proved critical in keeping them sharp for deployments. The squadron recently returned from a nine-month deployment to Southwest Asia this January.
"All of our pilots are always ready to deploy because of the world-class training they receive here at Holloman," said Colonel Anger.
Editor's Note: This article is the second in a series of four articles featuring the F-22 Raptors at Holloman Air Force Base.