F-22 Flight Training Challenging Work for Air Force Reserve Pilots
In Alaska, pilots must expect the unexpected
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON - Air Force Reserve pilots, who only fly part time, took time away from their regular day jobs to train in F-22’s.
The day was forecasted to be clear with blue skies, but the pilots said in Alaska you always have to expect the unexpected.
“Alaska has a lot of great things,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Sutterfield. “The air space is outstanding and the terrain is beautiful, but it changes fast and the weather changes.”
Flying the United States' premier fighter jet in the harsh weather conditions of the Last Frontier brings unique challenges. Saturday started off with clear skies, but by the time the planes took flight the visibility was lowering and by the time the jets had to land the snow was falling hard.
Sutterfield said every day brings new learning opportunities.
“It’s not unlike a football team, in that you start with small drills and work your way up to full pad practice. Today [Saturday] they were doing one vs. one drills” -- or a “dogfight,” a war game in which pilots simulate air combat.
“We have people who could go to war tomorrow,” said Lieutenant Colonel Brett Paola.
A dogfight was expected; what Paola didn’t expect was snow.
“What that means is pilots have to manage their fuel, and their timing to not only go out and fight or train, but their part of their training is to come back here and land the airplanes in the lower visibility weather.”
Every F-22 is fueled enough to do their mission and land somewhere safe. If the visibility is to bad at JBER they will divert to Ted Stevens International Airport or Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks -- which they do a couple times a year.
He said a majority of their flying is in similar weather, and if they can’t take off and land in the planes, then they can’t use them.
And it’s not just pilots learning a lesson.
“The maintainers have to learn to operate in that environment, the snow removal and the people that take care of the airport have to jet up again and make sure everything is clear and there is a whole priority for that,” said Paola.
According to Paola, this is just a taste of what’s to come, especially when the temperatures drop below freezing.
“It's cold, anytime it gets cold it is miserable to work on things, especially metal. It can get cold, where they can't touch their tools with their bare hands because they can freeze to it.”
But he says the pain is worth the gain because if you can fly here you can soar anywhere.