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4 new pilots begin F-22 training

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Bryan Bouchard
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The first Air Force pilots selected to fly the F-22 Raptor without previous fighter experience entered the 63rd Fighter Squadron for the Raptor Lead-in course Jan. 14 here.

The four pilots are 1st Lt. Austin Skelley, 1st Lt. Ryan Shelhorse, 1st Lt. Marcus McGinn, and 1st Lt. Dan Dickinson.

Prior to arriving at Luke Air Force Base, the four pilots were part of a pool of eight candidates hoping to be selected as the first students to go directly to the F-22. F-22 pilots currently flying the airframe had previous flying experience in other fighter aircraft. 

The Raptor Lead-in course is a five-week opportunity for the four new pilots to experience flying a high-G, high performance aircraft with an instructor in the back seat before taking the stick of the $169 million, single-seat F-22 by themselves, said Maj. Daniel Munter, a 56th Training Squadron instructor pilot.

"This course is designed to be an intermediate step to (the pilots) taking the F-22 up for the first time and being successful," Major Munter said.

Pilots and other instructors from the 56th Fighter Wing have been working since early 2007 on this course, which is not necessarily designed to teach the pilots how to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but rather to give them experience in a high-G environment while familiarizing them with other aspects of fighter aviation which were unavailable to them during their previous training.

After undergraduate pilot training, the eight newly-graduated pilots were sent to Randolph AFB, Texas, for the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals Course. That course familiarized them with fighters via the T-38 Talon trainer aircraft. By the end of IFF, the final four were selected to become F-22 pilots.

By learning to push the envelope in the F-16, the Raptor Lead-in course is designed to help them be successful in the maneuvering dynamics of the F-22, Major Munter said.

One of the major benefits to their F-16 familiarization is the similarities of the two aircraft, specifically the side-stick controls. Other aircraft in the Air Force inventory are controlled with the controls between the pilot's legs. The fly-by-wire system is unique to these two fighter aircraft.

Other items the students will learn more about while at Luke AFB include night flying, day and night landing, air-to-air refueling and increasing their ability to perform the anti-G straining maneuver. This last item is key, Major Munter said. While the T-38 Talon is quick and maneuverable, it may have pushed the pilots to experience six Gs, or six times the force of gravity. While flying the F-16, the pilots will experience up to nine Gs, making their transition to the F-22 easier to handle. 

This course is exactly what instructors at Luke AFB are used to doing, said Brig. Gen. Noel T. "Tom" Jones, the 56th Fighter Wing commander.

"You will get a lot of experience here from a fighter perspective and an intelligence perspective that's very transferable to the F-22," he said to the four pilots.

For the new pilots, the opportunity to fly the high-performance F-16 before going on to the Air Force's most advanced fighter is something they all look forward.

"Learning to fly an advanced fighter from world-class instructors is going to be a great opportunity for our class as we transition to the F-22," said Lieutenant Skelley, a native of Casa Grande, Ariz.

After completing the course here, the pilots will go on to the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall AFB, Fla., where after more than two years of training, they will take on the F-22.

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