LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- The 27th Fighter Squadron is the initial Air Force unit to receive F/A-22 Raptors. The first operational Raptor arrived here May 12,2005. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Travis Aston)
by Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
Air Force Print News
6/27/2005 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- When Air Force officials assigned the futuristic F/A-22 Raptor here, its first operational base, the service’s future met its past.
Putting the next-generation air superiority fighter at the oldest continuously active air base in the United States provides a striking contrast. It is like seeing a computer on a desk next to an abacus, or like parking a 2006 Chevy Corvette next to a two-toned 1960 AMC Rambler.
The 27th Fighter Squadron -- the Air Force’s oldest continuous fighter squadron -- will be the first unit to transition to the Raptor. It is a job the squadron knows well. The squadron was the first to switch to the F-15 Eagle, the Air Force’s premier fighter since the early 1970s.
Langley, located on the shore of the Back River just off Chesapeake Bay, is home to the 1st Fighter Wing. When base officials learned they would get the Raptor, they ordered the construction of maintenance and operations buildings to support the cutting-edge fighter jet.
There was one stipulation however -- the buildings’ exterior designs had to reflect the architecture of the early 1920s. Langley officials said they feel strongly about keeping their heritage alive. To do this, the bricks are specially ordered. Construction workers carefully lifted out the blue concrete stars that adorned the front of the old buildings, then restored and placed them into the new buildings like precious stones in a ring. Although the facilities opened in October, the outside façade suggests a 1923 official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
However, once through the door, that is where the past meets the present. The inside still has that new-office smell. Plasma screens dominate the break rooms and operations desks. And computers with slim monitors are on every desk.
The parking ramps on the flightline are no different. On one are neat rows of F-15s. Though still a top-notch fighter, they are more than 30 years old.
Although still highly effective, they do not have the same get up and go they once had. Like old cars, they rattle a little more and break more frequently. In a few more years, Air Force experts say the F-15s can no longer be counted on to counter today’s air and ground threats.
Next to the F-15s are the F/A-22s. They seem to “crouch,” ready to swoop into the sky and fly from zero to faster than the speed of sound in seconds. With its “super-cruise capability,” it flies supersonic without using afterburners.
Instead of a bunch of cockpit knobs and controls, the F/A-22’s onboard computers do much of the flying for pilots, freeing them to concentrate on the overall battle or mission.
”We can go against threats that F-16 (Fighting Falcons) and F-15s wouldn’t even think about trying to attack,” said Lt. Col. James Hecker, 27th Fighter Squadron commander.
By using today’s technology and smart weapons, he said, the F/A-22 specializes in placing ordnance on coordinates. In other words, he does not have to follow the bomb to the target. The aircraft’s technology takes care of that.
Combine that with stealth, speed and a radar-absorbing paint scheme, and the Raptor will prove a tough customer for the enemy.
“In boxing, if you fought a man you couldn’t see, he’d hit you all day,” the colonel said. That is what the Raptor does.
F/A-22 pilots and maintainers are also a mix of the old and new. Many come from the F-15 and F-16 communities. Those aircraft remain dear to them, like their first cars. But once they get to know the Raptor, it is as if they have peered into a crystal ball -- and loved what they saw, officials said.
“Because of all the things it can do, it takes fewer Raptors to complete a mission than F-15s or F-16s,” said Capt. John Echols, an F/A-22 pilot. “Saying the F-22 is a great aircraft is an understatement. It’s well worth every cent.”
Most maintainers said just being part of a new program is a thrill.
“The thing I like most about being with the F/A-22 program is the ability to start something new and to make sure the program is running properly,” said Airman 1st Class Jordan Dashley, a 1st Component Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion apprentice.
“I am proud to be part of such a new program, and I like the fact that I am basically a pioneer for the future,” said the 21-year-old Milford, Ohio, native.