NEW BLOOD - First pilots with no previous fighter experience selected to fly Raptors

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Bryan Bouchard
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs at Luke AFB, Ariz.
Meet the "chosen ones."

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 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The four pilots are 1st Lts. Austin Skelley, Ryan Shelhorse, Marcus McGinn and Dan Dickinson.

Prior to arriving at Luke, 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. Raptor 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 -- in this case, the F-16 Fighting Falcon -- 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," Munter said.

Pilots and other instructors from the 56th Fighter Wing have been working since early 2007 on this course. The course is not necessarily designed to teach the pilots how to fly the F-16, 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, 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 flown with the controls between the pilot's legs. The fly-by-wire system is unique to these two fighter aircraft, so the added experience will enhance their skills as they transition to the F-22.

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. All of this training is key to the new pilots' safe transition to the F-22, especially when it comes to handling Gs, Munter said.

The T-38 Talon is quick and maneuverable, and 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 and safer to handle.

This course is exactly what instructors at Luke AFB are used to doing, said Brig. Gen. Noel T. "Tom" Jones, the 56th FW 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 moving on to the Air Force's most advanced fighter is something to which they all look forward.

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

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