Next Wednesday on 2 May, the US Air Force will formally take delivery of the last F-22 Raptor from Lockheed Martin. Amongst the delegation attending the ceremonies will be 3d Wing commander Col Dirk Smith, 525th Fighter Squadron commander Lt Col Paul "Max" Moga and Lt Col Dave "Piff" Piffarerio--commander of the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Fighter Squadron.
The last Raptor, tail 10-4195, will be based at Elmendorf AFB as the flagship of the 525th Fighter Squadron--part of the 3rd Wing. But it is not the only jet being flown home. Tail 10-4193 is also making the long journey to Alaska and will become the Wing's new flagship.
Moga and Smith will fly the jets home on Friday, 4 May. In the meantime, the pilots will train on advanced networked simulators at the Lockheed facility, Piffarerio says. The simulator can replicate extremely challenging scenarios that are difficult to undertake during real training exercises.
Piffarerio is the most experienced F-22 Raptor pilot anywhere with a total of about 1060 hours in the jet. He first flew the F-22 back in 2004 as part of a second batch of operational testers at Nellis AFB's 422nd TES.
Piffarerio came to Alaska after transferring over to the Air Force Reserves in 2007--but in a full-time capacity. That allows him and other full-time Reservists to remain at operational squadrons far longer than their active duty counterparts. While they don't fly any more often per week than an active duty pilot, because they stay at flying units longer, officers like Piffarerio gain more hours and become a repository of experience for the USAF.
At a day-to-day level, at an associate reserve unit there is little difference between active pilots and full-time reservists. "The thought that we do here is we put the right person in the right job no matter what patch that they're wearing," Piffarerio says.
The sortie where he hit 1000 hrs on 4 November 2011 highlights the close relationship between the 3rd Wing and reserve's 477th Fighter Group.
It was a somewhat unique circumstance because it happened shortly after last year's Raptor grounding was lifted and because Piffarerio was tasked to give 3rd Wing commander Col Dirk Smith his check ride. Smith was undergoing his initial qualifications after returning to flying the Raptor following a tour at US Central Command.
"I knew it was getting really close, and since we were scheduled to hot-pit [refuel], I was right at 998 or so, I knew it would probably happen that day," Piffarerio says. "It wasn't like it was planned necessarily."
It was on the second sortie that Piffarerio hit the 1,000-hour mark. Smith passed the check ride; he was already a highly experienced Raptor pilot who had previously overseen the 94th Fighter Squadron's transition to the F-22.