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News > ACC Commander ends time as F-22 pilot confident in Raptor
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Bard, a crew chief with the 43rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit, straps in Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, into an F-22 Raptor for his qualification flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Cokeing/Released)
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ACC Commander ends time as F-22 pilot confident in Raptor

Posted 11/30/2012   Updated 11/30/2012 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis
Air Combat Command Public Affairs

11/30/2012 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- After five months in the cockpit and numerous discussions with combat-ready pilots and maintainers, the commander of Air Combat Command is ending his tenure as an F-22 pilot, confident that the aircraft is safe to fly and on a path toward unrestricted worldwide operations.

Gen. Mike Hostage recently completed his final flight in the F-22 during a tour of U.S. Air Forces Central Command bases.

"I originally began flying the F-22 to better understand the risks and challenges our Raptor community was facing. At the time, our Airmen's confidence in the jet had been shaken. Now that I've gone through F-22 qualification training and flown with most of our units while closely tracking the progress we've made with the life support system, I'm convinced we have significantly reduced the level of risk," Hostage said. "And, after experiencing what the Raptor can do, I'm more convinced than ever that we need this superb combat asset in the uncertain world we face."

When he began his checkout, the general had pledged to fly the F-22 until the problems with the jet had been solved and operations were back to normal. "Much as I would dearly love to continue to fly this amazing airplane, today's tough fiscal climate means I don't have enough flying hours for all of my aviators. Every sortie I fly means one less for a young fighter pilot who might someday have to go to war. Thus, my stopping will put those hours where they need to be the hands of our front-line combat pilots."

The general completed his F-22 initial qualification training in June. Since then, he has flown all of the operational employment scenarios the F-22s is tasked for in current war plans.

"The F-22's speed, radar, flight altitude and stealthy characteristics provide pilots the unparalleled ability to dominate any adversary," said Hostage. "This capability makes potential adversaries take note, and will be crucial to our nation's success in the more-contested operations we anticipate and for which we are training."

The success of an ACC-led F-22 Life Support System Task Force that identified the major factors contributing to then-unexplained physiological incidents involving a small number of pilots also factored in the commander's vote of confidence. Spearheaded by ACC's Director of Operations, Maj Gen Charlie Lyon, the Task Force initiated numerous steps to improve safe and effective F-22 operations. Two key changes are a redesign of a valve in the pilot's upper pressure garment (UPG) to prevent improperly inflated vests from restricting pilot breathing as well as an automated back-up oxygen system to augment the existing manual emergency oxygen system.

As aircraft and equipment modifications have proceeded, the Air Force and Department of Defense have gradually lifted restrictions on F-22 operations. The remaining peace-time restrictions on flight altitudes and using F-22s to conduct Aerospace Control Alert missions in Alaska will be lifted once the modified UPG valves and A-BOS are fielded.

During the transition to normal operations period this year, F-22s have deployed to Southwest Asia, Guam and Okinawa to enhance regional security partnerships and resume training activities in forward-deployed regions.

F-22s have flown more than 14,000 sorties over 19,000 hours since the last previously unexplained physiological incident on March 8. Since then, the fleet has experienced a small number of inflight events commensurate with the risk-reduction measures put in place. Also on November 16 an F-22 crashed near Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., after the pilot ejected safely. Although an investigation of that accident is currently underway, initial indications are that the aircraft's life support system had no bearing on the crash.

"We know that mechanical components sometimes fail, and we have back-up systems and emergency procedures to deal with that," the general said. "We also know that in flying high performance fighters, despite our best efforts, we will sometimes lose an aircraft. In the case of the previously unexplained physiological incidents, we did not know why some pilots were experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms. We needed to get to the bottom of that, and I believe we have."

"Flight safety requires constant vigilance and continuous improvement," Hostage said. "We always strive for zero mishaps, and in the case of the F-22, we have learned a tremendous amount in the last year. I am confident we are ready to return to managing the safety of F-22 operations in the same way we deal with every other high-performance aircraft."

12/6/2012 5:26:30 PM ET
In the Navy in the Mid 60's. Big fan of the A-4 Skyhawk and F-4. Than the F-14 and the F18 Super Hornet. Hope the new F22 Raptor can top those and kick butt.
Jim Holloway, Omaha NE
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