Next Wednesday on 2 May, the US Air Force will formally takedelivery of the last F-22 Raptor from Lockheed Martin. Amongst the delegationattending the ceremonies will be 3d Wing commander Col Dirk Smith, 525thFighter Squadron commander Lt Col Paul “Max” Moga and Lt Col Dave “Piff” Piffarerio–commanderof the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Fighter Squadron.
The last Raptor, tail 10-4195, will be based at ElmendorfAFB as the flagship of the 525th Fighter Squadron–part of the 3rdWing. But it is not the only jet being flown home. Tail 10-4193 is also makingthe long journey to Alaska and will become the Wing’s new flagship.
Moga and Smith will fly the jets home on Friday, 4 May. Inthe meantime, the pilots will train on advanced networked simulators at theLockheed facility, Piffarerio says. The simulator can replicate extremelychallenging scenarios that are difficult to undertake during real trainingexercises.
Piffarerio is the most experienced F-22 Raptor pilotanywhere with a total of about 1060 hours in the jet. He first flew the F-22back in 2004 as part of a second batch of operational testers at Nellis AFB’s422nd TES.
Piffarerio came to Alaska after transferring over to the AirForce Reserves in 2007–but in a full-time capacity. That allows him and otherfull-time Reservists to remain at operational squadrons far longer than theiractive duty counterparts. While they don’t fly any more often per week than anactive duty pilot, because they stay at flying units longer, officers likePiffarerio gain more hours and become a repository of experience for the USAF.
At a day-to-day level, at an associate reserve unit there islittle difference between active pilots and full-time reservists. “The thoughtthat we do here is we put the right person in the right job no matter whatpatch that they’re wearing,” Piffarerio says.
The sortie where he hit 1000 hrs on 4 November 2011highlights the close relationship between the 3rd Wing and reserve’s477th Fighter Group.
It was a somewhat unique circumstance because it happenedshortly after last year’s Raptor grounding was lifted and because Piffareriowas tasked to give 3rd Wing commander Col Dirk Smith his check ride.Smith was undergoing his initial qualifications after returning to flying theRaptor following a tour at US Central Command.
“I knew it was getting really close, and since we werescheduled to hot-pit [refuel], I was right at 998 or so, I knew it wouldprobably happen that day,” Piffarerio says. “It wasn’t like it was plannednecessarily.”
It was on the second sortie that Piffarerio hit the1,000-hour mark. Smith passed the check ride; he was already a highly experiencedRaptor pilot who had previously overseen the 94th Fighter Squadron’stransition to the F-22.