February 2, 2005 (by Chris McGee) - The F/A-22 Raptor, the Air Force's next-generation air superiority fighter, performed well in recently completed operational testing and is on track to go operational in December, the director of the program's combined test force said.
F/A-22 Raptor 4001, the first of the Air Force's next-generation of air superiorty fighter jets, flew its 100th mission at Edwards, with Boeing test pilot Chuck Killberg at the controls. The F/A-22 is undergoing the most extensive and sophisticated testing of any combat aircraft ever developed, giving the Air Force and its industry partners adequate time to properly design, build and test the Raptor before being put into production.
Speaking prior to a lecture he delivered at the National Museum of the United States Air Force here, Lt. Col. Evan Thomas, a Raptor pilot who commands the 411th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., said testing finished ahead of schedule.
"I'm very optimistic," Colonel Thomas said. "The airplane did very well in operational testing."
He said the process of readying the Raptor for its operational testing -- from refining and validating the aircraft's key attributes to training pilots -- proved a significant effort and enabled operational testing to be conducted successfully and ahead of schedule.
Even so, Colonel Thomas said obstacles remain to be cleared between now and December.
"There are still a lot of challenges," he said. "It's going to be an uphill fight throughout this year, not only for us on the Air Force Materiel Command developmental test side, but also for Air Combat Command units standing up the first squadron at Langley (AFB
, Va.). These are challenges, but we can (overcome) them."
The 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB -- the first squadron to transition to the Raptor -- received the first operational aircraft Jan. 18 from Tyndall AFB, Fla., where the 43rd Fighter Squadron is training future Raptor pilots.
Pilots with the 27th Fighter Squadron will train on the aircraft by flying missions over the next few months while maintenance crewmembers will train on a separate F/A-22 that arrived at Langley AFB Jan. 7.
Colonel Thomas said the aircraft's package of stealth, supercruise and integrated avionics will give the Air Force and the nation the best capability to operate in combat environments.
"Being able to proceed to a target at supercruise and get there very quickly to deliver a Joint Direct Attack Munition onto the target is a clear advantage," he said. "You can't have a fighter over every inch of enemy territory, but with a Raptor, you can have more of a central location and cover far more ground in a short time."
The F/A-22's capabilities, combined with an understanding of history's lessons, make the case for the Raptor's value in future conflicts, Colonel Thomas said.
"What 20th century warfare taught us is the overwhelming importance of air superiority," he said. "That is an enduring air power lesson the Air Force has learned, and the F/A-22 is a key component in ensuring that we can establish and maintain air superiority anywhere in the world well out into this century."