So you're the absolute cream of the fighter-pilot crop, you've got the most badass jet in the sky -- but you can't fly it. What then? That is the situation in which the Air Force's F-22 pilots have found themselves, but according to reporter Hugh Lessig of the Daily Press newspaper, they're trying to make the best of it. Lessig went out to Langley AFB, Va., home of Air Combat Command and the famous 1st Fighter Wing, to see how the pilots and crews are doing while the Air Force tries to figure out how to make their airplanes flyable again.
Raptor pilots at Langley are not exactly twiddling their thumbs waiting for the all-clear. They've ramped up training in a high-tech simulator and are spending more time in the classroom. Maintenance crews are handling more ambitious projects -- work they could never do during the normal flight cycle.The challenge, as Lessig writes, is replicating the dynamics that the simulator can't.
And time in the gym? It's on the rise. Fighter pilots are not exactly low-energy individuals. "The guys are getting antsy," said Lt. Col. Jason Hinds, director of operations for the 27th Fighter Squadron.
The F-22 simulator at Langley has become a popular place -- not just with Langley pilots, but throughout the Air Force. It is only one of two F-22 simulators in the service; the other is at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Since the stand-down, pilots from Hawaii, New Mexico and elsewhere have come to Langley to train, said Capt. Travis Passey, training flight commander in the Operational Support Squadron. This past week, pilots from Alaska were at the base. "For the next three months, we've got people booked to come here to operate in our simulators," Passey said.
"The risk isn't there," said Lt. Col. Pete Fesler, commander of the 27th Fighter Squadron. "That risk equates to stress. You can't really hit the ground in a simulator. Obviously, you can in a real airplane, so you tend to take risks that are a little bit higher when you fly the simulator because there's no threat to you or the airplane."Could that include the J-20?
But it does help, the pilots say, as does increased classroom time. Pilots are going through weapons and tactics briefings and receiving intelligence updates on relevant situations from around the world, said Hinds. "We're keeping our brains engaged with the ... numbers they have memorized," Hinds said. "I guarantee you, these guys can tell you everything about the Raptor and everything about the primary-threat airplanes we fly against."