Students transform from not knowing how to fly the F-22 to being the next generation of air dominance professionals: Raptor FTU kicks off inaugural F-22 basic flying course at Langley

Students transform from not knowing how to fly the F-22 to being the next generation of air dominance professionals: Raptor FTU kicks off inaugural F-22 basic flying course at Langley

By Dario Leone
Jun 24 2023
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The future F-22 pilots are assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron (the Raptor formal training unit, FTU) and will undergo a multi-phased training approach combining academics, simulator training, and in-flight instruction.

“My first flight was mind blowing,” said Capt. Chas Ballard, a F-22 pilot in training. “As soon as I took off and started pulling back on the stick for the first time, I could feel the immense amount of power that the machine had to give and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever flown before.”

As told by Airman 1st Class Adisen Smith, 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs, in the article 71st FS kicks off inaugural F-22 basic flying course, Ballard, along with five other future F-22 pilots, are participating in a nine-month long F-22 Basic Flying Course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

The future F-22 pilots are assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron (the Raptor formal training unit, FTU) and will undergo a multi-phased training approach combining academics, simulator training, and in-flight instruction.

“The whole intent behind the course is to not only be able to fly the F-22 but be able to effectively employ it,” said Capt. Spencer Bell, a 71st FS flight commander. “We send people off to Combat Air Force squadrons, who are ready to deploy and ready to do the mission.”

Throughout the training, students must complete three-months of academic instruction and begin overall familiarization of the F-22 in simulators and classrooms under the instruction of expert civilians at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

“Doing the simulators at Tyndall was really cool and the instruction we got there was unparalleled,” said Ballard. “The program itself is super well-regulated and all the instructors cared, so we are super excited to do the training.”

Students transform from not knowing how to fly the F-22 to being the next generation of air dominance professionals: Raptor FTU kicks off inaugural F-22 basic flying course at Langley
A student pilot assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron prepares to conduct their first F-22 flight during the basic flying course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Jun. 5, 2023. The nine-month long course is designed to take the students who have never flown a F-22 to being the force’s next generation of air dominance professionals.

The instructors at the 71st FS and Tyndall AFB work closely together to ensure portions of the course being geographically separated does not impact the overall quality of the student’s learning environment.

After completing academic and simulator instruction at Tyndall, the pilots return to JBLE and begin the four phases of the flying portion of the program. According to Bell, each phase consists of specific tactics and lessons; the student must meet course training standards to move to the next phase which builds upon the skills mastered in previous phases.

The phases of this course include transition, advanced handling characteristics, basic fighter maneuvers, beyond visual range intercepts, and air combat tactics.

“The phases are designed to get the pilots from not knowing anything about the airframe to graduating and being our next air dominance professionals.”

Bell emphasized that although it’s not a part of the lesson plans, a critical part of building the next generation of F-22 pilots is immersing them into its tight-knit flying community.

“We want to get them in the mindset of what it’s like to be in a fighter squadron, what our mission means and why it’s important,” said Bell.

Students transform from not knowing how to fly the F-22 to being the next generation of air dominance professionals: Raptor FTU kicks off inaugural F-22 basic flying course at Langley
A US Air Force maintainer from the 71st Fighter Generation Squadron taxis pre-flight a student conducting their first F-22 flights during the basic flying course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Jun. 5, 2023. Students began conducting their first in-seat flights on Jun. 5t.

One of the ways this is accomplished is by aligning the training environment with the flying traditions and daily routines they can expect once they are assigned to fighter squadrons.

“For every flight, we will conduct briefs and instruct the students on every aspect of the mission,” Bell said. “From there, we get a briefing from the operations supervisor, put on our flight gear, and go out to the jets to fly.”

Since the F-22 is a single-seat fighter jet, the instructor pilots must find different ways to oversee in-flight training.

“We give them all the tools to fly the jets themselves and when they’re actually airborne instructors monitor the student pilots either electronically or from a chase formation position and are on a radio frequency communicating with the pilots the whole time to help them out as they go along.”

Like real-world flying operations, after the flight they are debriefed and receive feedback so they can continue to improve their skillset.

As the students’ progress through the course, they’ll transform from not knowing how to fly the F-22, to being the next generation of air dominance professionals.

F-22A Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-22A Raptor 192nd Fighter Wing, 149th Fighter Squadron, FF/04-4082 – Langley AFB, VA – 2014

As already reported, previously, the F-22 FTU mission was located at Tyndall; however, after much of the base was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in 2018, Tyndall’s F-22s were temporarily moved to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In 2021, the Air Force signed a Record of Decision approving JBLE as the new FTU location.

In preparation for their new mission, the 1st Fighter Wing at JBLE redesignated the 71st Fighter Training Squadron as the 71st Fighter Squadron in November 2022, and in January 2023, activated the 71st Fighter Generation Squadron. These two units will host the FTU.

Construction has also begun on two of several military construction projects slated to support the FTU. The first was the groundbreaking of a new low observable composite repair facility in November 2022, and the second was the groundbreaking of the new combined operations and maintenance hangar Feb. 22.

As Tyndall AFB prepares for the arrival of the F-35A Lightning II mission, it will continue to provide the academic and simulator portions of the F-22 FTU mission until a new ground training facility is completed at JBLE. This is expected to occur no earlier than summer 2026. The move of the F-22 FTU to Langley is intended to free up space at Eglin Air Force Base for an additional F-35 training unit.

The move of the F-22 FTU would bring 31 Raptor fighter jets at Langley as well as 16 T-38 training aircraft of the 2nd Fighter Training Squadron which are tasked to fly as hostile aircraft.

The Air Force has said the number of F-22 flights from Langley’s airfield would rise from 22,677 a year now to 49,119 when the training unit is up and fully operational. T-38 flights would increase from 16,000 a year to 47,866.

F-22 Raptor model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Ceaira Tinsley / U.S. Air Force


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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