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A pilot's "unrealistic" dream comes true

July 29, 2013 (by Capt. Erin Dorrance) - After three years of rigorous U.S. Air Force pilot training, 25-year-old 1st Lt. Andrew Van Timmeren, 7th Fighter Squadron pilot, finally got to climb into the world's most advanced fighter jet and take it for a spin.

1st Lts. Stephen Renner and Andrew Van Timmeren, 7th FS F-22 Raptor pilots, stand outside of their squadron before stepping out to their aircrafts at Holloman AFB on July 25th, 2013. [USAF photo by SrA. Kasey Close]

Holloman Air Force Base has 24 F-22 Raptors. The single-seat, twin-engine fighter aircraft is an air dominance fighter, which utilizes stealth technology, and was delivered to the Air Force inventory to be flown operationally in 2005. The F-22 Raptor augments and will eventually replace the aging F-15C Eagle fighter jets.

"It is a pipe dream to fly the Raptor," said Lieutenant Van Timmeren, who was assigned the F-22 directly after completing undergraduate pilot training.

He studied political science at the U.S. Air force Academy and graduated in 2010. The Grand Rapids, Mich., native said that everyone asked him what he wanted to fly while he was at the Academy, but if you said the F-22, you were laughed at because it was an unrealistic dream.

Previously, F-22 aircraft were only assigned to F-15 and F-16 pilots with fighter pilot experience. The Air Force opened up the F-22 pipeline to new pilots because the flying program has been in place for several years with experienced instructor and evaluator pilots in place.

"It is well within the capacity of these new pilots to fly the F-22," said Lt. Col. Shawn "Rage" Anger, 7th FS commander. "New pilots make our experienced instructor and evaluator pilots even better at their jobs because of the meticulous training required when you are brand new to the jet."

Once pilots arrive to the 7th FS they have several weeks of training before they are considered "combat ready" in the F-22. Since the F-22 is a single-seat airplane, the first time you fly it you are on your own...with a wingman flying beside you for mutual support.

When 1st Lt. Stephen Renner, 7th FS pilot, walked out to an F-22 for the first time, he had to do a gut check.

"I knew I was prepared because of my amazing training, but I did feel anxious to fly the F-22 on my own the first time," he said.

Lieutenant Renner graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in astronautical engineering in 2010. The Piedmont, Calif., native said that he has wanted to be a pilot for as long as he can remember.

"It has been a long road, but entirely worth it," he said. "Flying the F-22 is a far-fetched dream come true."

Lieutenants Van Timmeren and Renner were both at the top of their undergraduate pilot training classes.

"We were pretty lucky to get F-22 drops because it doesn't happen often," said Lieutenant Renner.

Both lieutenants have spent the past three years enduring the Air Force's intense pilot training program to include hundreds of hours of simulator and training aircraft flying, water survival, austere land survival, medical evaluations, and three flights in an F-16 Fighting Falcon to prove they could sustain 9 g's of gravitational force, land a fighter aircraft, and successfully complete aerial refueling, said Lieutenant Van Timmeren.

"Flying is a bug I was born with," he said. "I was just blessed to be able to realize it, and to chase my dream."

Editor's Note: This article is the first in a series of four articles featuring the F-22 Raptors at Holloman Air Force Base.

Courtesy of 49th Wing Public Affairs

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Additional images:

1st Lt. Andrew Van Timmeren, 7th FS F-22 Raptor pilot, climbs into an F-22 at Holloman AFB on July 24th, 2013. [USAF photo by SrA. Kasey Close]