The images in this post show F-22 Raptor stealth fighters belonging to the 90th FS “Pair-O-Dice,” the first F-22 squadron in Alaska, receiving its advanced aircraft in 2007.
Taken by aviation photographer John Dibbs, they were released by Lockheed Martin’s Code One magazine along with an interesting story about the Arctic Raptors based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Along with 90th and 525th FS, belonging to 3rd Wing, the 302nd FS is an Air Force Reserve Command’s associate unit that provides pilots and maintainers who fly and fix the aircraft alongside their active duty counterparts.
As the Code One article points out, not only do the pilots of the 302nd are on alert, ready to go at a moment’s notice, year-round, they are also the most experienced F-22 squadron in the USAF, with four of the eleven total Raptor pilots who have achieved the 1,000-hour milestone.
On Nov. 10, two B-52s, respectively launched from Minot and Barksdale AFB with radio callsign Hail 13 and Hail 14, were flying over Alaska, when they were called from Anchorage ATCC (Air Traffic Control Center), asking for their assistance: contacts with a Cessna plane had been lost after its pilot became disoriented after flying into bad weather.
The small plane was flying at such a low altitude that the ATC was unable to talk with it on the radio.
Hail 13 was about 200 miles away from the Cessna pilot’s estimated location when they got the distress call.
“The first thing we did was calculate our fuel to make sure we had enough,” said Capt. Joshua M. Middendorf, 69th BS aircraft commander of Hail 13. “We also had to ensure our wingman, Hail 14, would have enough fuel to make it back to Barksdale.”
After assessing that they had enough fuel for the new task Hail 13 headed directly west in search of the Cessna pilot.
One hundred miles into their detour, the leading B-52 was able to locate and establish a radio contact with the pilot who had dropped to low level to keep visual contact of the terrain below the clouds and was flying through a ground surrounded by mountains.
Since the B-52 was much higher it could act as a relay between the pilot and the ATC, providing the distress pilot information about the weather ahead and “directions” to reach the nearest landing field.
As the pilot approached Calhoun Memorial Airport in Tanana, Alaska, Hail 13 turned up the air field lights over a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) to help the pilot landing safely.
“Although both crews flew hundreds of miles off course, they did not allow the detour to compromise their mission,” the Air Force official release on the episode says.
“The fuel saved by the crew of HAIL13 in the beginning stages of the mission allowed them to fly faster back to their original course, putting them back on schedule. Not only did they meet schedule, HAIL13 and their wingman were able to complete every mission checkpoint, resulting in a successful mission.”
Did you know that, among all the other roles, the B-52 could also fly SAR (Search And Rescue) support missions?
It happened during exercise Combat Hammer, a weapon system evaluation program sponsored by the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, in the Utah Test and Training Range, “the only location in the U.S. where the F-22s can employ SDBs at speeds and altitudes unique to the Raptor,” said Maj. Wade Bridges, a Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron.
The Alaska’s F-22s have received the software increment 3.1 that enables them to drop the 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets; equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range.
Among the Lessons Learned of the Air War in Libya, there was the need to employ SDBs to improve accuracy and reduce collateral damage.
The SDB is currently integrated on the F-15E Strike Eagle whereas all the remaining U.S. bombers (including the F-35) will get the GBU-39 in the future. The Italian and Israeli air forces have procured this kind of weapon as well.
Separation tests on the Raptor began in Sept. 2007.
The training event allowed for Total Force Integration across the F-22 fleet: pilots from both the 302nd and the 525th Fighter Squadrons and maintainers from the 3rd Maintenance Group and the 477th Fighter Group deployed from Alaska to take part in the exercise, alongside the Hawaii’s 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons pilots and associated ground personnel who took part to this Combat Hammer as well.
The successful delivery of air-to-ground weapons marks an important step for the Hawaiian Raptors towards declaration of Initial Operational Capability.
As already explained, even in the hi-tech age of stealth bombers, low-level flying is still one of the most important parts of combat pilot training.
The fact that some recent scenarios give combat planes the opportunity to quietly operate at medium or high altitude with standoff weapons, because of the lack of anti-aircraft threats, doesn’t imply there’s no longer need to train for flying at low level.
Aircraft involved in special operations, reconnaissance, Search And Rescue, troops or humanitarian airdrops in trouble spots around the world may have to fly at low altitudes as this may be the best way to penetrate the enemy airspace avoiding detection by the enemy’s air defense system.
Even a stealth plane (or helicopter), spotted visually by an opponent, could be required to escape at tree top height to survive an engagement by enemy fighter planes or an IR guided missile.
Low level flying is quite demanding because of the risk involved with flying at high speeds few meters above the terrain. That’s why it’s still part of the Red Flag exercise.
In this impressive HD video, you’ll join a Polish Air Force C-130 as it flies at low altitude between the valleys of Alaska during a RF sortie.
Although it has been already published on several websites, this image suggests some interesting analysis.
It was taken on Aug. 1, 1989, and shows two Soviet Mig-29 being intercepted by four (one is the camera ship, another one is not visible in this photograph) F-15s of the 21st Composite Fighter Wing, whosee 43rd and 54th Tactical Fighter Squadrons patrolled 580,000 square miles from the North Pole to the tip of the Aleutian Islands.
The planes’ contrails give an idea of the maneuver used by the U.S. fighters to intercept the Mig-29s.
“What you can clearly see in the photograph is the wingman crossing the leader’s flight path to obtain a WEZ [Weapon Engagement Zone]-in-depth position to be ready to use the missiles as soon as the leader achieves the VID [Visual IDentification]” explains Lt.Col. Salvatore “Cheero” Ferrara, an Italian Air Force pilot assigned to the JSF program at Washington DC, formerly flying as an interceptor pilot with both the F-104 and the F-16.
“Although I think the wingman’s cross is a bit belated, the image shows a typical “deploy” maneuver of the U.S. fighters, in which the leader is “eyeball” and the wingman becomes “shooter”. All the visual interception are conducted in this way, even though, with the current “sensor fusion”, this kind of maneuver might change in the future” Ferrara says.
In simple words, the wingman, initially located on the “southern side” of the maneuver crosses the formation leader’s flight path to emerge on the other side in a defensive-spread position. From there, the wingman can almost “look through” the leader’s aircraft towards the target and continue the stern approach until it reach the Weapon Engagement Zone from which the air-to-air weapon can be fired.
Not in this case, though, since the U.S. fighters intercepted the Soviet Fulcrums on their way to Elmendorf AFB, in Alaska, where they refueled before continuing to Abbotsford, in Canada, for the International Airshow.
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