Raptors ready to roll

A F-22 Raptor is displayed at Canon Air Force Base on Saturday. The fighter was one that Holloman Air Force Base will start receiving in 2008. (CNJ Staff Photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Greg Price: CNJ Staff Writer

A pair of F-22 Raptors stopped at Cannon Air Force Base to get a taste of New Mexico air a year before their arrival at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo.

The Air Force’s and New Mexico’s newest fighter aircraft was introduced at Cannon Saturday morning after making a trip from Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla. The advanced tactical fighters are being tested in Cannon’s airspace, and will be flown back to Tyndall.

The Air Force is retiring its fleet of F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters beginning in March 2008 and replacing them with F-22s.

Beginning in late 2008, two F-22s will be delivered monthly to Holloman until two full squadrons of 20 fighters apiece have been filled, according to Capt. Rebecca Garcia of Cannon.

Maj. James Rich, the Equipment Maintenance Squadron commander at Cannon, managed the maintenance crew for the F-22 at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., for three years before arriving at Cannon. He described the inner workings of the Air Force’s latest advance in stealth technology.

The Raptor sports two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines, which allow the aircraft to achieve supersonic speeds over Mach 1.5 without using its afterburners, Rich said.

Typically afterburners tend to suck up more fuel, but the Raptor’s aerodynamic design reduces wind resistance, allowing the aircraft to use less of its afterburn, Rich said.

Maj. Shawn Anger and Maj. Lance Pilch of Tyndall trained the first squadron of F-22 fighters for Langley.

Anger has logged about 300 flight hours on the F-22 over 2 1/2 years.

He also worked with F-16s, and compared the two fighters on maneuverability and speed.

“I came off the F-16 fighter, and it didn’t have nearly the same capabilities as this plane,” Anger said of the F-22. “The jet maneuvers much more aggressively, and is much more responsive at slower speeds.”

The F-22 also showed advances in the cockpit, Anger said.

“The flight control system is just so much more advanced,” he said, “just due to computer technology. The jet is just an amazing performer both at low speeds and high speeds.”

Garcia said the F-117 maintainers at Holloman will be retrained to maintain the F-22s.

Rich added the F-22 fighter was designed for easier maintenance, including a color-coded engine.

“The plane was designed where you can drop one panel in the middle of the plane and have access to everything,” he said. “It used to be you had to find someone with small hands to get to the nuts and bolts inside the plane, but now a nominal male can get his hands into the plane to work.”

Langley has already received its two squadrons of F-22s, and Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska, will receive two squadrons as well before Holloman, Rich said.