Military Aviation

USAF F-16 Pilot explains why he would Rather Fly the F-35 in combat than the F-22 (even in a War against Russia or China)

‘In the same way the F-16 is fundamentally superior to the F-15C, the F-35 is fundamentally superior to the F-22,’ Rick Scheff, US Air Force (USAF) F-16 Viper pilot.

Designed as a critical component of the Global Strike Task Force aimed to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances, the F-22 Raptor cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. Its combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities.

Instead, the F-35A Lightning II is the US Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter. It will replace the service’s aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt II’s, which have been the primary fighter aircraft for more than 20 years, and bring with it an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate. With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the United States and allied nations.

So, would you rather be the pilot of an F-22 or F-35?

‘F-35, no doubt,’ Rick Scheff, US Air Force (USAF) F-16 Viper pilot, explains on Quora.

‘The Raptor is about as cool as it gets, and it is the greatest air superiority fighter the world has ever seen, but like the F-15C that it was originally designed to replace it is an airplane without a real mission in modern conflict. When was the last time an American fighter killed another fighter in an air to air engagement? Go look it up, I’ll wait.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

‘It is cool to think about WWII/Korea/Vietnam and the great dogfights of history, and believe me I wish I had been flying then, but that just isn’t the modern battlefield. None of America’s conflicts feature pitched battles against technologically modern opponents. Even if somehow a real war against a modern opponent kicked off, the days of within visual range fighting would be over. There is a place for visual identification and actual fighter maneuvering right now, but in a no kidding war against Russia or China there wouldn’t be. We would be killing them from as far away as we possibly could. With that in mind, the 35′s sensor fusion and ability to carry ordinance externally is more valuable than the 22’s ability to turn corners in style.’

Scheff continues;

‘Additionally, the real role of modern fighters involves an air to ground component. CAS (Close Air Support) and SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), and old-fashioned dropping of bombs are the real reasons to have modern fighter jets. The ability to fight in and fight out (multirole) is an added bonus, but at the end of the day wars are won by killing people on the ground and breaking their stuff, so you want fighters that can A- kill people and break their stuff, and 2- make it safe for bombers and attack jets/helicopters to kill people and break their stuff.

‘The Raptor has some limited ability to do this, but the 35 was designed to do this. In the same way the Viper is fundamentally superior to the F-15C, the 35 is fundamentally superior to the 22. Multirole aircraft are designed with the mission in mind. Air to Air airplanes are designed to fight a war that we don’t fight, and mostly function as high-speed cheerleaders.’

Scheff concludes;

‘At some point the question of which you’d rather fly boils down to this: would you rather be the world’s most badass high-speed cheerleader, or would you rather do the job? The 35 does the job.’

Photo credit: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK via Wikipedia

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
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.

View Comments

  • This sounds like the opinion of someone who failed to learn the lesson taught to us by the F4 Phantom.

    Additionally, I don't know where he gets the idea that the F-16 is superior to the F-15. I mean, other than the fact that he's an F-16 pilot. The F-22 and the F-15 are termed "air superiority" fighters for a reason. They ensure air dominance so the multi role fighters and ground support planes can do their jobs. And this is the honest view of someone that helped design F-16s.

    If you are going to fight other planes, the F-22 is THE plane in which to do so. If you may need to defend yourself against other planes, while you perform your primary mission of bombing, then the F-35 is THE plane you want to fly. Different jobs call for different tools. I mean, yeah, you could drive nails and screws with a hammer, but ever notice how all carpenters have hammers AND screwdrivers?

  • The biggest, best point the article makes is that in today's world we no longer need Air Superiority "Cheerleaders".
    When was the last real air-to-air "dogfight" in the sky?

  • @Brilliant_Dummy did you actually read the article? The point of multirole fighters is to reduce the number of aging airframes needed and simplify logistics. The article makes a valid point that unless a full scale war develops, hardly any A2A fighting will be done, rendering planes dedicated to this (F22, etc) useless. You might as well have a plane that can do both so that you just need one plane in the sir instead of multiple. If A2A combat was necessary, the nature of modern technology allows for an easy BVR kill without necessitating WVR combat, which can easily be done by modern planes.
    Going off of your "carpenter" analogy, notice how most carpenters also have a ton of torx, security screwdrivers etc that never get used?

  • I think this is just a click bait article to evoke a reaction. In modern battle field it pays to be invisible to the enemy. The raptor will not be detected by enemy radar and can relay valuable coordinates data to F35 for a effective strike. I am not a pilot or an aviation expert but even the dumbest numb nut in the world will have hard time agreeing with this. The F22 cannot be seen by enemy let alone be tracked. A single F 22 will be to co ordinate dozens of mules (F 35/ F 16/ Hornets) essentially to carry missiles. The F22 will see the enemy first relay information and remain undetected. It does not need to engage and even when it does it wins.

    • No click bait here, as we always do we report pilots' opinions. These men fly and fight in real world operations. If you don't agree with some of them, it doesn't mean an article is click bait. Cheers!

  • krmanr, you are kinda echoing the sentiment I was talking about. The F-4 was put into service because of exactly the logic you espouse. The F-4 didn't even have a close range weapon, because we thought dogfights were a thing of a bygone era. Guess what? They had to learn that lesson the hard way. And, if dog fighting isn't a thing anymore, why does the F-22 and F-35 still have a gun? I ask rhetorically.

    When was the last time there was a real dogfight?!?! Seriously? They are going in Ukraine as we write. There is a long list of them on Wikipedia.

    Joe bricks, I do understand the idea of a jack of all trades. (and the rest of that saying, which is...master of none.) I get the idea of a multirole fighter. Since they can fight AND bomb, by your logic, I guess we don't need bombers anymore, either.

    Being a superpower is expensive, and we either want to be one, or we want to have an economy military. We can't do both. I vote we cut back on entitlements and use that money for a real military. One with air superiority fighters, close air support, bombers, and all the rest. Peace through strength, not peace through an economy-model military.

  • @Brilliant_Dummy
    You are kinds correct. The USAF currently fields 45 B1Bs, 19 B2As and 74 B52Hs for 138 bombers total. As for the multirole "fighter" aircraft, we have the F15 and EX for 226, 934 F16s and 283 F35s. This gives us 1443 multirole jets to 138 "bombers" so yes, I'd argue that we are seeing a shift away from bombers. (
    You make a point of the F22 and f35 having a gun, but this is slightly misleading, as only the F35A has an internal cannon, the B and C version omitts it. Even then, this cannon is used primarily for A2G! It's use in the A2A role is likely as a backup / taking note of the lessons learnt by the F4, should a similar situation arise. (Although this situation developed primarily as a result of the innefectiveness of early A2A missiles)
    You can't be a superpower if your country goes broke funding only the military! (See: North Korea)

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