The US Air Force announced today that Air Combat Command chief Gen Mike Hostage finished his initial quals in the F-22 Raptor. He had promised earlier in the year to fly alongside his pilots until the Lockheed Martin-built stealth fighter's problems are solved.
Read the story here
In the meantime, the operational USAF Raptor fleet is flying with some restrictions on their operations--i.e. they can't fly above 44,000ft where you need to start pressure breathing for altitude. They also have to remain relatively close to an airfield. There are also some other maneuvering restrictions on the aircraft since the pilots are not wearing their Combat Edge anti-g upper-pressure garments.
Despite this, they still fared well in Alaska when doing some basic fighter maneuvers training sorties with some visiting German Luftwaffe Typhoons. There were contradictory claims from both sides as to the outcome of a set of eight basic fighter maneuvers sorties. You can read that story here... But as one Raptor driver says in retrospective: "I did review the HUD footage, a lot of gun shots from the F-22's to the Eurofighters and not a whole lot coming back."
As an aside, I consulted my good friend and colleague Guillaume Steuer, defense editor for the French aviation trade publication Air and Cosmos about the French Armée de l'Air's experiences with the Raptor. There has only been one documented case where a French pilot has gotten a simulated kill on an F-22. It wasn't a Dassault Rafale as one might expect, but rather it was a Mirage 2000-9. Interestingly, the aircraft was actually a UAE air force Mirage that was flown by a French pilot--it happened about two years ago. The Armée de l'Air pilots thought the event was significant enough that they made this patch:
Photo by Air and Cosmos
Meanwhile, down at Holloman, 49th Wing's Raptors recently flew a Combat Archer live-fire exercise. The effort expended two more of the remaining QF-4 drones. The USAF is modifying its retired F-16 into QF-16 drones to replenish the ever dwindling fleet. Boeing is set to deliver six QF-16s to the USAF before the end of the year.
In other news, the entire Flight team is off to Farnborough for the airshow next week. Watch for our coverage...