F/A-22 officially unveiled
Langley Air Force Base introduces the Raptor with a heavy focus on the need to be invisible to the enemy and regain air dominance.
Published February 12, 2005
HAMPTON -- Chuck Corcoran is 5 feet 11, with dark hair, green eyes, a wife, two children, 14 brothers and sisters, and a strong desire to be invisible.
That's why he loves flying the new F/A-22 Raptor, which was officially unveiled Friday at Langley Air Force Base amid ruffles, flourishes, military brass and, finally, a smoke-filled introduction worthy of the NBA.
Even the plane was ceremonial. The light gray No. 94005, much of which looked white in Friday's hangar light, was flown into Langley and will never be flown again. It is being used to train maintenance personnel, some of whom work on No. 94029, the plane that was flown by Corcoran, a major, once Monday and twice Wednesday.
Every description of the F/A-22 that was given Friday, from Lt. Col. James B. Becker, commander of the 27th Fighter Squadron, to Col. Frank Gorenc, commander of the First Fighter Wing, and Lt. Gen. William M. Fraser, vice commander Air Combat Command, began with stealth.
"Stealth can make you feel like you're invincible," says Corcoran, 35.
In the Raptor's case, it means that the best radar in the world might identify the aircraft as a bee flying along at 1,000 or so mph, 50,000 feet in the air, its sting only an open-door away.
Corcoran, from Chillicothe, Ohio, is one of "The 10," the first Air Force pilots chosen to fly the Raptor. But his love for the plane began when it was still a gleam in an engineer's eye.
"In 1988, my first year at the (Air Force) Academy, they were talking about the F-22," he remembers. "I knew right away that I wanted to fly it."
So did every freshman at the academy, as well as anybody who ever turned a stick on an F-15 or F-16. When a selection board considered Raptor pilots, it looked at Corcoran's 1,650-plus hours in the F-15, some of them spent patrolling the No-Fly Zone in Iraq. The board also noted that he wasn't about to leave the cockpit for an administrator's desk, and saw he had the status to be an instructor.
That allowed Corcoran to do something rare in the Air Force: sit in a new plane.
"It's like a new car," he says. "Pick one up and drive it off the lot. It's got the new-car smell and all the latest and greatest gadgets. It's an opportunity that's once in a lifetime."
That's not just hyperbole.
"The F-15 has been the Air Force's primary airplane since the mid '70s," Corcoran says. "Guys who came in the middle or late '70s have never gotten to sit in a new airplane."
It's been 30 years since the Air Force introduced the F-15 and it owned the skies. Now, there is a sense that the skies are leased.
That's why every speech Friday included the words "air dominance."
"You don't want to go into a knife fight with a knife," said Corcoran. "You want to go in with a gun."
"If you compare (the F/A-22) to cars, it's like going from a '60s or '70s-era Corvette to a 2000 Corvette," he says. "The reason we need this airplane is that when the F-15 was the Corvette of its generation, the rest of the world was driving Pintos. What's happened is that now other countries have caught up."
Corcoran began training on the F/A-22 in 2002. He still remembers his first flight.
"I took off all right and was flying, and then I thought about landing and my hand started to shake," he says, smiling now that he has about 200 hours of takeoffs, landings and everything.
The most important math in the Air Force is this, says Corcoran: "You always want your landings to equal your takeoffs," he says, again smiling.
The limits of the Raptor are still being explored.
"It can't drive down the streets of Baghdad and pick off snipers or RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades)," Corcoran says. "But it can do just about anything else."
Friday's ceremony was billed as the beginning of a countdown to Initial Operating Capability, which is scheduled for December. Starting in May, the 27th Fighter Squadron gets two Raptors a month. The squadron will be the first in the Air Force to be ready for an F/A-22 mission.
Quoting Gorenc about why the Raptor is so exciting, Davis says: "In the United States Air Force, we don't look to win 51 to 49. We look to win 100 to 0, and that's what the Raptor gives us."
Corcoran will just take invisibility.
Source: http://www.dailypress.com/news/local/dp ... ocal-final