April 10, 2006 (by Jeff Hollenbeck) - The U.S. Air Force's newest jet fighter, the F-22A Raptor, visited its first civilian air show this past weekend. Visitors at Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, FL were thrilled to see the F-22 both in the air and on the ground.
An F/A-22 Raptor, a vintage F-4 Phantom II and a P-51 Mustang fly a heritage fly-over during the Aviation Nation 2005 air show. [U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Demetrius Lester]
Due to the veil of secrecy that still cloaks most of the Raptor program, the sleek new stealth jets have been kept on U.S. military installations until now. Visitors to Sun 'n Fun got to see the Raptor up close on the ground for the $3.00 price of a tram ride along the restricted flight line.
Air Show fans weren't limited to static displays of the Raptor. One of the pilots, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Shower, is originally from the Lakeland area and put on quite a show while waiting for the F-15 demo to conclude in the main airshow space according to J.R. Kincaid, a member of the Starfighters air show team. "He (the pilot) was just cruising around at sixty to seventy degrees nose up and then he'd turn the plane around in about 400 feet. It was amazing! And the tailslides were cool, too."
The F-22 will also take part in the Heritage Flight this year, flying in close formation with historic fighters such as P-51 Mustangs, F-86 Sabre Jets, and F-4 Phantoms at airshows around the country.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that a formal F-22 Raptor demonstration team will be active for the 2007 air show season.