JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, AK, UNITED STATES
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- After a grueling eight-and-a-half hour non-stop flight from Georgia, the airplane carrying Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Moga finally touched down on Alaska soil after a weeklong business trip. Despite sitting in the same seat for the entire trip, Moga sprang up when he spotted his waiting family. He could see them waving, and the colonel was all too eager to wave back.
Finally, the plane came to a gliding stop on the tarmac. Rather than waiting for the captain of an airliner to turn off the seatbelt sign, Moga instead actuated the hydraulic struts of his golden-hued canopy, because he wasn't a passenger on a 767 – he was the pilot of a supersonic F-22 Raptor air-dominance fighter.
Beginning early morning Saturday, Moga, 525th Fighter Squadron commander, piloted F-22 Tail No. 4195 from Dobbins Air Force Base near Marietta, Ga., to JBER, where he was greeted by his family and 3rd Wing airmen. The delivery was especially significant, because the fighter is the last F-22 scheduled to be manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Though the F-22 required aerial refueling during the Raptor's journey to its new home, Moga said the trip was quite routine. What wasn't routine, however, were the events surrounding his receipt of the fighter at the manufacturer's Marietta facility.
“Logistically, it was a very simple process,” he said. “For a few days last week – that single aircraft represented the entire weapon system.”
Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-22 Program, recalled many of the hurdles that were surmounted in order to field the Raptor.
“When we started the [F-22] program, there were a lot of technologies that just flat didn't exist,” he said. “The F-22 was not an evolution of the F-15 [Eagle] and the F-16 [Fighting Falcon]. It was a revolution in the way it did sensor fusion, integration into the pilot's command and control of the airplane … It's the first operational low-observable fighter airplane.”
During a May 3 ceremony at Marietta, Babione passed a ceremonial key for 4195 to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who in turn gave the key to Moga. Moga then passed the key to 4195 dedicated crew chief Air Force Staff Sgt. Damon Crawford, 525th Aircraft Maintenance Unit.
Moga said, throughout the week, he was impressed by the dedication of Babione's team to the success of the Raptor.
“For them to be able to hand over the last F-22 ever built is a little bit of a bittersweet moment for them,” Moga explained. “It was almost as if they were watching their kid graduate from high school, and they were sending him off to college. You hate to see them go, but you know they are going to do great things – and they're probably going to do better things than you've dreamed they were ever going to do.”
Moga said he spent the day after the ceremony mission planning – checking the weather along the route, validating the flight plan, and performing pre-flight checks of 4195.
Saturday morning, Moga reported to Dobbins Base Operations at 7 a.m. local time, 3 a.m. Alaska time, to begin the long journey that would finally find him and the last Raptor home early afternoon.
Because the flight was pushed back a day, there was very little pomp and circumstance at the 525th FS hangar when 4195 touched down with Tail No. 4193, the new 3rd Wing flagship flown by 3rd Wing commander, Air Force Col. Dirk Smith.
Beside a handful of crew chiefs in addition to 3rd Wing and 3rd Operations Group leadership, Moga was also greeted by his wife Amanda, daughter Madeline, 3, son P.J., 1, and mother-in-law Iris Jones.
Despite the quiet welcome, Moga said the inclusion of 4195 into his squadron marked a momentous milestone.
“It means a lot to the Bulldogs,” he said. “We have a lot of squadron pride. We have a great heritage and a great history, and this is another honor that has been bestowed upon us by the aircraft.
“It comes with some responsibility,” Moga continued. “The last F-22 is a big deal and we know that. I can't think of a better squadron for '195' to live in.”
Moga said the F-22, the only fully-operational fifth-generation fighter in the world, is the best weapon system to give him the edge he needs to dominate any adversary in the foreseeable future.
“When our national leadership decides to use this capability in combat, I have no doubt in my mind that it will exceed all expectations,” he said. “This fighter is the most capable fighter aircraft that has ever been built far and away. I flew the F-15 for seven years – I went to combat in it – and if I had to go to war tomorrow, I wouldn't want to go in another jet besides the F-22. That's how good it is.”
With the F-22, The U.S. Air Force is currently the only entity operating a fifth-generation fighter.
The U.S. isn't the only country developing a fifth-generation fighter. Russia's Sukhoi Company is developing the PAK-FA T-50 stealth fighter, while China's Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group is developing the J-20 stealth fighter.
Moga said it requires a lot more than marrying a stealth coating with fancy avionics to design and build a true fifth-generation fighter. The F-22 combines stealth, fully-integrated avionics, super maneuverability and maintainability.
“Those are the packaged items that – because the F-22 represents a significant amount of progress in all of those areas or a complete deviation from what we had before – that's why it's so much different,” the colonel explained. “You put all of those elements together and make a weapons system operational, then you can say 'Yep, this system is fifth generation.'
“Other aircraft are stealth,” Moga continued. “Other aircraft are fast. Other aircraft can fly high. Other aircraft have individual portions of our integrated avionics and our sensor fusion. That is not unique. But when you put all of those together in one airframe, it's unique to the point that we are confident that no other country has that capability set.”
Sitting at rest on the tarmac, 4195 looks like a coiled viper – both purposeful and aggressive. It's computer-aided designed curves and creases appear more organic when compared to the industrial lines of fourth-generation designs conceived on drawing boards.
Those curves include stealth shaping, which help the F-22 to be the most stealthy aircraft devised for U.S. service, according to a 2005 Air Force statement. In conjunction with vectored-thrust nozzles, the Raptor's design also helps it to be super maneuverable, giving it the capability to outturn an adversary in a dogfight.
One fifth-generation aspect Moga highlighted was the Raptor's ability to supercruise, which allows the F-22 to travel at speeds in excess of Mach 1.5 without the use of afterburners.
“Being able to operate at high altitudes and very high airspeeds is a huge capability when you talk about where we expect to operate this weapon system,” Moga said. “In the anti-access, area-denial role, altitude and airspeed are some of the keys to survivability when you start talking about going against very robust surface-to-air missile systems. The higher you are and the faster you are, the better your stealth works. That has been proven.”
Moga said an ongoing update initiative is Increment 3.1, which affords the F-22 an enhanced air-to-ground repertoire, including the capability to self generate coordinates for air-to-ground bombs.
The pilot said the combination of the the Raptor's current capabilities and projected upgrades serve as a deterrent to any foe contemplating taking the F-22 on in air-to-air combat.
Since the Raptor has been operational, nobody has decided to take us on in a big shooting war, air-to-air wise,” Moga said. “That is deterrence.”
Moga said because of the strategic importance of the Pacific, the F-22 is ideally positioned at JBER with the 525th and 90th fighter squadrons.
“Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is a stepping stone to the Pacific,” the colonel said. “In the Pacific Command area of operations, everyone talks about the tyranny of distance – everything is a long way away. If you look at JBER geographically, we're perfectly suited as a full-time location for this capability, and within a matter of hours, we can pretty much get anywhere we need to be in the Pacific.”
Moga said he is also grateful for the combination of the training opportunities afforded by the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, and for the support of the local community.
“Alaska has some of the best range complexes you're going to find anywhere in the world,” he said. “The airspace is outstanding. The local community embraces us. I can't think of a better place to be in the military and fly fighters.”
With 3rd Wing's combination of it's F-22 capability and it's power projection platform at JBER, Moga said the base's Raptors are ready to meet the needs of theater commanders worldwide.
“We need to present our combatant commanders the capability that says, 'If you ask us to do something, it doesn't matter where it is and doesn't matter what the enemy has, they cannot stop us,'” he said. “That is what the Raptor is all about.”
||JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, AK, US
This work, Bird of Prey: Bulldogs accept delivery of last Raptor, by David Bedard, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.