April 21, 2006 (by Jeff Hollenbeck) - US Air Force officials at Holloman Air Force Base recently held a public forum regarding possible changes in the use of the airspace in the area if F-22 Raptor fighter jets are based there as planned.
Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor
The F-22s would take the place of the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters currently stationed at Holloman. The F-117, first flown in 1981 and declassified in the early 1990s, is scheduled to be retired as more F-22s come online.
While F-117 is a subsonic aircraft with no air to air or defensive weapons, the F-22 can cruise at supersonic speeds without using its fuel thirsty afterburners in search of targets in the air or on the ground. The difference in capabilities and missions will require a change in the types of training flights for the new F-22s.
Supersonic airspace will be expanded and a new corridor will be designated between the McGregor missile range and the White Sands Missile Range to allow for supersonic flight between the ranges. Civilian aircraft cannot use the airspace between the two ranges even now as it is too narrow.
Other changes in training flights will include many more flares and bundles of chaff being used over the ranges as the F-117 currently doesn't carry these. Magnesium flares are used to distract heat seeking missiles while chaff is aluminized silica which is ejected from aircraft to form a radar reflective cloud to confuse tracking and targeting radars.
Officials at the meeting said that while supersonic flights would increase in frequency and lower in altitude, they could not provide any specifics at this time and would include those questions along with many others in the upcoming environmental impact study.