First Flight In The Raptor

“Chief, am I clear to start the APU?” I asked over the intercom.  I needed to ensure no one was near the exhaust ports of the Auxiliary Power Unit before I could commence the start sequence in my F-22.

“All clear sir!” came the response.

I nervously pushed the APU switch forward and held it until I saw the green “APU” light illuminate.  After a couple seconds, there was a loud hissing sound as the Stored Energy System shot compressed air through the mini turbine engine of the APU.

Satisfied that I had a good APU start, I lowered the canopy.  I will never forget the feeling of that gold-tinted canopy closing slowly, encapsulating me alone for the first time in the $160 million fighter.

After checking all of the warning lights, ensuring the aux generator was online, and confirming the engines were clear I brought the throttles out of cutoff one at a time.  The right engine came up first with a low growl as the air turbine starter took to the task of getting the turbine of the powerful Pratt and Whitney F119 engine rotating.

With right engines started and the left engine reaching idle RPM the jet started to come alive.  Data from the Central Integrated Processors (CIPs) populated on the displays and I began setting up my navigation and mission data for the flight.

Although it was my first time in the aircraft itself, it wasn’t my first time at the controls.  I had spent several hours in classroom academics and in the various simulators as part of the F-22 “B-course”.  Before a student can strap in to an actual jet, they must demonstrate proficiency at taking off, landing, and handling all kinds of emergency procedures in the simulator.  The amount of simulators required prior to taking flight is significant as there are no 2-seat versions of the F-22 and your first ride (and every ride!) is solo.

My time had finally come to get airborne and I followed my flight lead/instructor pilot (IP) as he taxied to the end of the runway.  We both lined up on runway 31R.  The plan was for him to take off first, circle back around, tell me to release brakes and join up with me on the departure.  The plan worked flawlessly.  As my instructor reached a normal “perch” point he gave me the “release brakes” call over the Tower frequency.

I pushed the throttles up to MIL – no afterburner (AB) required for this takeoff.  It is very easy to go supersonic in AB while on departure, so the rookies have to demonstrate proficiency in MIL power takeoffs before attempting an AB takeoff.   Even without the use of AB I still got a pretty good kick in the pants as the jet shot down the runway.  Easily reaching rotation speed of 137 knots I pulled the nose up to 10 degrees and waited only a second or two before the big grey bird was airborne.  Smoothly climbing out of ground effect I reached for the gear handle and was able to get the gear up just in time before passing the gear limiting speed of 250 KCAS.

My heart was pounding in my chest.  I couldn’t believe I was airborne in the world’s premier air dominance fighter!  I wasn’t able to take much time reveling in the moment; it was time to focus and fly the profile I had chair-flown several times.

Your first ride in the Raptor is pretty low-key.  First on the list of things to do is fly to the Military Operating Area (MOA) and do some maneuvers called “aircraft handling characteristics” to get a feel for how the jet operates.  These maneuvers consist of several of the same things you see in the Raptor demo at an air show: pedal turn, cobra, slow flight, high AOA loop (where you fly backwards for a couple of seconds), and so on.  After your mini airshow in the MOA it’s time to focus on instrument flying and come back to the field for several precision and non-precision approaches.  Your IP is flying a chase formation the entire time as you fly your jet and execute the profile.

The B-course is the last time you get to practice touch and go’s in the Raptor (combat units practice low approaches to save the struts and tires).  After several touch and go’s and feeling comfortable with the landing picture, it was time to put the jet back on terra firma.  I pulled closed to inside downwind one last time, slowed below 250 KCAS and extended the gear.  With three good gear indications and the leading edge flaps and trailing edge “flaperons” automatically extended, I slowed to 180 knots, started the final turn and made my radio call, “Raptor 2 with chase, base, gear, stop, 31R.”

I concentrated on catching 12 AOA while maintaining a good sight picture throughout the final turn.  The HUD in the Raptor makes it easy to stay on airspeed as there is an AOA “staple” that fluctuates based on current AOA giving you a graphical depiction of the demand you’re putting on the jet.  Your final approach speed is automatically bugged on the airspeed indicator eliminating the need to do fuel weight calculations yourself.

With the gear down, my F-22 was in Power Approach Mode, meaning the flight control laws were changed to decrease sensitivity to control stick inputs.  This would help me from over-controlling the aircraft in the final turn through touchdown.  I smoothly flared as I crossed the threshold at 167 KCAS at which point the large surface area of the wings did its job of cushioning the landing as I descended through ground effect.  I had a pretty good amount of beginner’s luck with my first full-stop landing, but the Raptor had a lot to do with helping me get the jet back on the ground safely.

The rush I felt from that first flight in the Raptor stayed with me for days.  Even today, after a difficult sortie where nothing seems to go right, I can think back on that experience and smile knowing that the worst day of flying the Raptor is still better than the best day stuck behind my desk!

Note: I’d love to discuss anything I can that is unclassified and open-source about the F-22 (i.e. my experiences, basic flight operations, etc.)  Please feel free to comment here or send me your questions via Tally One’s email:  Thanks for reading!